2011 in review

I probably should have done this post in New Year’s Eve so it would have gone live in time for the annual reanimation of the carcass of Dick Clark. But I was driving home from Knoxville until about 9:00 that night and I think I was actually in the shower when the new year landed. I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s reaction to the the ball being dropped (it wasn’t pretty) so  decided to skip it this year. In fact, I skipped the holidays pretty much in general this year, at least as far I was able to do so. My apologies to all of you who deserved cards, presents, and other celebratory stuff.

To say that 2011 was the worst and most difficult year of my adult life would be a major understatement–and also a bit redundant. A large chunk of the foundation of my life was pretty much ripped out from underneath me and I was forced to reconsider how I would be spending the rest of my life. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect was not having any real control over most of what happened and spending the bigger part of the year feeling hurt, helpless, and pretty much completely out of control. Oh yeah, and trying not to let it show, first to “save face” and later because it was necessary for me to be “the strong one.”

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention (or need a refresher) the year was pretty much defined by my breakup with Mark and the drama ensuing from my mom’s rapid-onset case of Alzheimer’s. It seems like the whole year has been pretty much one gut-wrenching and heartbreaking episode after another with very little respite or time to recover in between. It’s been fucking exhausting.

The breakup happened on 9 March. It had been brewing for several months and I’d really pretty much known it was over when we parted ways in San Francisco in December 2010 but this was the year when we formalized it and started dismantling the life we’d built together since 2001. So much time having passed, I’m now a little more comfortable sharing that I felt largely blindsided by it all; I’d been stupid (or unobservant) enough to believe we’d been pretty happy over the preceding nine years. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, of course, and any relationship issue by definition involves both partners and I’m not saying this to portray Mark as the villain. I mention it simply to stress that I was not the one who wanted out, and therefore that no matter how friendly he and I may remain, I will always view things differently than he will. When you are the instigator, the breakup hurts you deeply but this is tempered by the fact that you’re leaving because you believe your life will be better somehow because of it. When you’re the one left behind, though, you don’t have this comfort. There’s only the down side: the hurt, the big empty space in your life, the crushing blow to your sense of self-esteem and security, and all the random things that used to make you smile but now make you get teary-eyed.

It sucks. I think only a few of my closest friends have any idea how much this has affected me because at some point you just have to shut the fuck up about it or no one will want to be around you anymore.

All the same, I’m a relatively strong person and probably would have coped a little better if I’d had a little time to process it all before the next crisis hit. But it was not to be. In April came the first episode that really suggested that my mom was jumping on the Alzheimer’s bus…fast. It was terrifying and it was also hard for me at first to accept how major my role was to be in all this.

The next few months would be just one thing after another, leaving me with wounds that refused to heal because I kept pulling the same scabs off over and over again. A lull with Mom was followed by the sale of the house in Pittsburgh and all the emotional drama that produced, then by Mark’s trip to North Carolina to move or dispose of most of the rest of his stuff, and by discussions of the “division of assets”; Mark was more than fair about this–generous even–but just having the conversation at all was painful when just a year earlier we’d been exciting about bring our lives together again.

I had a brief, two-week break with my Canadian road trip. It’s hard to express how very essential that vacation was to my ongoing sanity. Without having had it, I might not be typing this right now.

But there was no chance to bask in the glow of relaxation after Canada. The very weekend I returned, my mom’s problems began escalating dramatically and it soon became obvious to everyone except her and my dad that home was no longer the place for her. She was hallucinating and wandering and threatening, and my dad was on edge from constant arguments and from the stress of constantly looking for things she’d hidden and convincing her there weren’t three other people living in the house with them. He was shutting down and I was realizing that I was about to have to start making all the decisions.

I’d never completely processed the breakup. I wasn’t even entirely capable of managing my own life. And now I was expected to manage my parents’ day to day issues as well. And yes, I started resenting it. I started resenting the fact that they hadn’t made plans beforehand and the fact that my dad wouldn’t commit to anything no quite give me all the authority I needed. And I started resenting all the effort I’d put into being accepting and supportive of everything that was going on with Mark while minimizing everything that was going on with me. And I started really resenting that it was all happening while I was at possibly the most important point in the new career I was trying to build for myself. I was really fucking tired of being strong in the face of everyone else’s drama and how that was denying me the ability to deal with my own life. Where a few months earlier, I’d felt something of a lack of control over my own life, I now felt like I didn’t have any control. It seemed like the whole last year of my life had been defined by shit that was imposed on me by other people against my will and without my consent. It was all kind of whiny and self-pitying but it was kind of true too.

There were lots of mornings in 2011 when it was all I could do not to wake up, walk into the kitchen, and stick my head in the oven. And that would have been really stupid since I have an electric oven. See? There’s the sense of humor. It was always there, if sometimes farther below the surface than I wanted, and it was one of the things that saved me. The other was a few really good friends who have always been there for me even when I may not have returned the favor as much as I should have over the years. The best part of this year has been trying to rebuild some of these friendships after a period of neglect.

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