`I want a clean cup,’ interrupted the Hatter: `let’s all move one place on.’
He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse’s place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.
When I was thirty, I gave birth to my son. Two months later, my husband died of esophageal cancer. It was really the most shit crap thing that had ever happened to me. Throughout the course of my pregnancy, I watched the man I love deteriorate. Turn into a shell of what he used to be. After he died, I existed in a vacuum. Everything in my life had turned upside down. Numb limbo. In the days, months, and years that passed after his death, I got the same message from various people. Move on! Unsolicited advice in regards to my grieving process popped up here and there. “you should do x, y, z”, “stay strong for your baby”, “it’s been x amount of time already.” As if there’s a magical grieving timetable that no one told me about. Strangers’ empathy was often stronger than some of my oldest, and I thought bestest, friends capacity for it. My homies just weren't having it. I didn't get it. What widowhood manual did I have to reference from? I just remember thinking how my life was a black hole and nothing mattered. Uplifting, inspiring, that is me in my deep dark widow ways.
To be clear, my grieving process wasn’t an extreme experience. I didn’t abuse drugs, didn’t neglect my child, didn’t run naked in the streets, didn’t have a mental breakdown, didn’t cut off all my hair a la Britney, didn’t make too many bad financial decisions, didn’t date too many assholes (one is enough for a lifetime, really). I just didn’t move fast enough with my grief to suit their comfort levels. I didn’t do it the way THEY thought I should be doing it. I remember my husbands best friend standing in my living room lecturing me about some of the “bad choices” I had made in the few years I had been a widow. I felt misunderstood, judged, and completely insulted. What did they want me to do? Wake up one day and be ok and act like everything was normal again? I mean, he runs a hedge fund and that alone seems to involve several levels of moral dilemmas and bad choices, but what the fuck do I know? My best days were still awful in comparison to my old life, and I was keeping things together - working, paying bills, caring for my kid. It took everything I had to just keep afloat.
My snail racing speed of grief, and apparent “bad choices” also enabled two of my former friends to gossip about me. It gave them something to bond over, someone to talk about, someone to be scandalized by. When I caught wind of the awful facts, and connected the gossip dots, I was devastated. I called ex-bestie out on it, "Did you say XYZ to So-n-So after I said DON'T TELL ANYONE ABOUT THIS?" The answer I got was a hostile "Well, I didn't know who YOU told, so what's the big deal." Uhhh, hello, best friend 101: YOU HAVE THEIR BACK AND DON'T TALK SMACK, JESUS H CHRIST ON A PINEAPPLE. As difficult as it was, it gave me a valid reason to never speak to either of them again. That was the worst part of everything. I was prepared for my husband to die, but I wasn’t prepared for the fall-out in the rest of my life. That completely took me by surprise. In hindsight, ex-bestie and So-n-So were mediocre friends and mediocre humans.
You know that time in life when you’re young, happy, relatively successful? Everything seems to be going well. No major blips on the screen. Yes, there might be a leaky pipe in the upstairs bathroom or a scheduling conflict, but in the scheme of things, it’s all good. The majority of the people that surround themselves around you during those times will not be there when things fall apart. I promise. Now, that’s not to say love and support and friendship don’t exist. They most certainly do, just not in superfluous quantities. A teeny percentage of those same people will also prey on your sadness and grief. Use it to their advantage. Gross, I know. But EXCELLENT examples of what NOT to be as a human. Emotional vulture is not a life goal but a lot of people end up in that realm.
Looking back, I can see that my dysfunctional family dynamics played a huge part in the formation of my relationships. My life is speckled with the remains of some strange imbalanced friendships. It makes sense now, knowing what I know about my parents (malignant narcissist mom, enabling dad), that I took on the role of the enabler. I never learned a proper friendship dynamic. I always gave and gave and gave because I was raised to believe that I sucked as a person. Giving, not complaining, always smiling - that’s how you get people to like you! Oh, and did I ever want to be liked. Combine my messed up home environment with a super strict upbringing and you got a very naive girl that so desperately wanted to socialize and mingle yet had no social skills to speak of. My first semester in college was like that, where I just did not know how to be. I lacked the confidence to be myself and I kept twisting and turning and trying to fit an unknown formula of cool and it was exasperating. When I stopped trying so hard, I actually made some friends. And made out with a shit ton of guys.
Old habits die hard, so as much as I thought I was independent and strong and cool, I would slip into awful enabling patterns with other narcissists. Not surprisingly, those friendships were the first to implode after my husbands death. I held on, far too long in some cases, but I’m better for their absences now. There were some long lonely stretches in the last decade that didn’t do too much for my abandonment issues at the time, but which I’m so grateful for now. After a lot of work (with therapy, tons of reading, years of self-reflection, learning about photography!), I came to the realization that I’m a fantastic person. I deserve to move on at my own pace in my own time. I deserve friends, real friends, that love me for me. I deserve empathy, patience, and tolerance. I certainly don’t have as many people in my circle as I used to, but I have solid, stable, healthy friendships. And healthy bowel movements.
In a few days, it’ll be ten years since my husband died. I’ve watched our son grow into a truly delightful human being. I have love and support from a new partner in my life. I’ve left the Mad Hatters of my life behind and I’m getting better at recognizing them. I don’t want to be insulted Alice at the tea party any more. I am in a really good place. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. My periods are even more predictable and tolerable. I feel good enough that when I write these words and think of someone else going through what I went through, I can honestly say it gets better. It takes a lot of time, it takes massive effort, but it gets easier. A little bit. Every day. It helps not to depend on any drugs or substances or random dick as avoidance maneuvers. You gotta hit that grief head on and beat that bitch down. As for the hat(t)ers, the sycophants, the narcissists, the gossipers, the judgers, they’ll move on, too. Clean cup! Clean cup!
Excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland