Thailand

The tedium of normality

This time a year ago I was sitting alone on a beach in Thailand. It was meant to be a dream holiday. Except it wasn’t. It was when I first suspected that my marriage might be over.

A year on, I find myself sitting alone in a less glamorous location — a semi-detached house on a treeless street of matching semi-detached houses. I am in sweat pants and a t-shirt, sorting out accounts and dealing with life admin.

If you had told me as  I  sat on that beach, that in just 365 days I’d have shut down my business, got a full-time job after 15 years of self-employment, filed for divorce, not of my choosing, sold and bought a house, moved, decorated, guided two teens as a single parent and survived it all, I wouldn’t have believed it.

And yet, here I am.

I knew when the decision to end our marriage was made, that it was going to be hard. Seriously hard. I braced myself for the emotion, the hurt, the exhausting physical and emotional graft and I even tried to mentally prepare for the new normality that comes after a marriage ends. But even though I expected the last on that list to be hard, no one can really prepare you for it. It’s like when you lose a loved one and the funeral flowers have long since died, and you’re left alone with life as normal, only emptier. And it’s where I find myself now.

I liken this entire process to climbing a mountain. When you stand at the bottom and look up at the massive challenge ahead of you, it is hugely daunting. You’re not sure how you are going to do it or if you’ll survive it. But you dig deep into your reserves, put one foot in front of the other and you push to get to the top. You cry a lot, feel sick, and can’t quite catch your breath. That’s how those first few months felt. Terrifying. Exhausting. Relentless. Unachievable. Too much. But adrenalin gets you through. What’s more, you have a group of people cheering you on. You can do this! You’ve got this! We believe in you!

Once you’ve done the hard work and reached the summit, you can revel in the euphoria of making it. You’re high on the potential of what you’ve achieved. People tell you how proud they are of you. You take a moment to realize how far you have come and are quietly proud too.

But then you get back down to earth. You leave the mountain behind you and start the long plod home. The well-wishers fade away, back to their own busy and challenging lives. The adrenalin that kept you going has gone. The euphoria you felt seems light-years away. Now you just have to go back to normal life. Every day. You don’t feel like a conquering hero anymore. The hangover from the adrenalin leaves you feeling flat and grey. And the future looks very big and very bleak. This is the tedium of normality.

Thoughts of: ‘is this it? is this all it’s ever going to be?’ wade through your mind on a regular basis? Work. Chores. Work. Bills. Being alone. All. The. Time. The vastness of repetitive bland. It is soul-crushing.

I expected this. I truly did. I knew that this bit — right here, right now — was going to be the hardest part of the journey. Because all that flat, hollow, emptiness creates a vacuum for the emotions — that I’d squashed away in my hurry to get up that hill — to work their way free. The packing tape that was holding those boxes closed has lost its stickiness and memories are popping out unexpectedly.

Like today, as I took a walk alone, and saw all the couples together. Some in the first flushes of young love, some chivvying young children on who wanted to know if they were there yet, some older people strolling along silently, comfortable next to each other in that intimate familiarity that comes from years together. And it hit me that all those years of intimacy that I’d cultivated, had been pulled out by their roots. I was seed again, having to grow all over again and I’d never had as much time to grow the same way. Just like that, one of those memory boxes sprung open and assailed me with a gut punch. The worst thing is, you never know when those suckers are going to open. They just do. Without warning. It adds a spike of emotion to an otherwise feeling of blah.

And weirdly, I am grateful for them, because it means I feel, rather than simply exist, and it means I’m doing the work. I know I have to finish unpacking all those boxes of emotion and memories. It’s a hard, painful, tedious graft. But it has to be done. Only once they are fully unpacked will I be truly free to start over.

It’s tempting to rush headlong into another adventure, where the adrenalin can mask the truth of what lies beneath, but you cannot live on adrenalin. I am terrified that I get stuck in drab mediocrity forever, spending a lifetime shuffling boxes around. But I know I need to master patience. This is part of the journey. It’s the hardest part. I can’t skip it or take a shortcut. I will come out the other side eventually.

Until then, thank you to those friends who still keep cheering me along the flat. It doesn’t look as impressive as scaling a mountain, but it takes far greater endurance. And I am grateful that you’re by my side.

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