after the flood

She’s alert at the bow, her grip on the ledge breaking splinters, bright eyes squinting through tears and the rain of a storm. Wails lost in the wind, the spray, the haze of salt and mist; she rolls in a wave. 

Again and again, merciless, never-ending, until, exhale, it ends. The waves slow. She tucks low, exhausted, surrenders to the sea, heavy eyes under a heavier sky. 

She rolls to her back, sore from the stillness of sleep. Black has poured over the sky; she floats, an island alone in oceans of darkness. There are stars, diamonds spilled from a jar, there is so, so much of the sky; she can breathe. In, out. In, out. Left, right. Up, down. She rocks with the boat, onward, onward; she sleeps.

A bird flutters to perch, riding the waves of a slow golden glow, sunlight melting over the sky, the sea, her skin – she blinks silent greeting to her new feathered friend. 

They watch the day together, blues and grays roll by. She tilts to the sky, eyelashes eskimo kissing the salted breeze. She never knew what it meant to bask before, but there she was, doing it. Basking.

And then there was land.

The loudest sound yet, she leaps overboard, splashes into the sea. 

She is everything and nothing in the pull of the ocean; she is lost in the power of what was long before her and what moves after. She is salt and water and life, she is death and birth and baptism and eternity. She swims and soaks and delights. 

She wades ashore, guiding the boat by hand. Two-handed now, plodding through the thickest surf, moving steadily towards the final grind of wood against sand. 

She turns, hands on hips, facing what lays before her. Lush and green- every shade of green- the hint of honeydew and the depth of pine, the radiance of emerald, the richest of moss- it is here. It is life.

She walks in. 

thinking and thanking and dating

If you looked into the windows of our first Thanksgiving you’d see us laughing. 

About the turkey I let rot on the counter for a week. About what No-Shave-November had done to his face. About the fish at the restaurant with eyeballs.

Sweet, at first glance. 

Look closer.

You’d see me panicking in the bathroom thinking I’d tracked my cycle wrong and we were going to be pregnant.

You’d see me praying at mass that I wouldn’t be, that it’d all be okay, that he’d be okay, that he’d still love me.

You’d see me leaving for Kroger, telling my parents I needed Midol, buying First Response. Hiding in the bathroom by the check-out, heart pounding in my ears watching the timer tick down.

A negative test washing the anxiety off.

Back to laughing.


I’m sorting through my life again, turning stories into essays for the never-ending ever-involved annulment questionnaire. 

I put down paragraphs on the tangled mess of my marriage; it’s winding the strand of anxiety back around my heart.

Why was I so stupid

Why couldn’t I see

Why did I stay

I was young

So dumb

In love

Maybe love is just as blind as they say. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

I read a book on annulment the other day, and as I type along I wonder why the author said I’d get through this process and see how I’d contributed to the divorce. 

I certainly contributed the lawyer, so I guess there’s that. 

I look again, but still, no, it wasn’t my flaws that fueled our demise. My error wasn’t in the end, but in the beginning. I’ll take responsibility for that- I knew what marriage was. I knew what marriage should be. I didn’t know enough about what it would be with him, and maybe I should have.

The rest is on him.

Leaving was the bravest thing I’d ever done, and that is the only part of this story I will take ownership of. Aside from picking poorly- I did not deserve the hell he put me through. I did not deserve the callous cold, the manipulation, the fear, the anxiety, the neglect, the rage. Those were not my mistakes. 

I continue narrating my story, the list of questions stretching on like a bad dream.

I wonder why the process wasn’t this thorough before our wedding day.

I wonder how to explain the bits that need explaining without scandalizing the readers.

I wonder what to call it when you’ve been fighting with your husband because he’d lied about the strippers and later when you’d asked him what to do about the day you’d had sex – should you drink at the wedding in case you’d be pregnant in two weeks – his response was a laughing, “Better drink up!” 

What do you call it when you’re so mad you make him a bed on the couch but he’s drunk and wakes you up from sleeping to have awkward clumsy uncomfortable sex you weren’t interested in and you were angry and it didn’t feel good but you don’t tell him to stop because good wives don’t deny their husbands?

What do I call that?

I’m writing it up for a committee to review and I’m not quite sure what else to say.

This whole thing sucks.


Except, a little bit, it doesn’t.

Begrudgingly, after my fuss about the Church’s encouragement to avoid dating, I find it’s possible the advice might be valid. I feel a bit like a harrumphing teenager, skulking off, too moody to admit she was wrong. 

Eventually, though, I stop worrying about finding new men and start worrying about finding myself.

I suppose if I spent last year heart-broken this is a good a time as any for re-building. 

Makes enough sense, so I reinvest in the things I used to love. Ever-so-gently my heart starts putting itself back together.

Instead of men, I’m dating words. I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m soaking up stories. Book after book, I’m eating them up, finishing the ones that’ve been half-done for years. I’m choosing a life of expansion over life with a man who thought he was good enough, who scoffed at self-improvement. 

I date music. I realize this year alone I’ve been to more concerts than I’d gone to in years. I play classical at dinner, pop in the car, country in the shower; I soak in new albums and genres and pianos breath over me like a balm.

I plan to date the world. He didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like it, didn’t want it, angrily planted in America, uninterested in cultures or places or people or putting his feelings aside to invest time in his wife. To that I say – I’m going to Ireland this winter. To Italy this summer. To France next fall. I will see the world, I will see it’s people, and I will learn. I will explore. I will adventure. I will be a student of all this earth has to offer.

Most importantly, I spend time dating God. Where my husband made me choose between love of God and him, where he yelled when I chose God and put a hole in our bedroom wall, where he told me I was selfish for choosing my faith, I was uncompromising and hateful and made him feel unloved because I wanted a life with children in it- 

Now I pray. And I pray and pray and pray. I go to holy hours without sneaking out of the house. I go to church events and confession and mass. I play Lauren Daigle and Audrey Assad and hymns and podcasts and there is no shame. I read about saints and philosophers and Scripture and faith. I rest. 

There is no more fear. 

I am free.

I am me. 

I am thankful. 

trauma drama

 I weighed myself again last week and the numbers whispered back

You’re out of control. 

You’re unrecognizable. 

This is why he didn’t want you. 

Anxiety settles in like a cat on my chest. A little tail curls around the back of my neck, little claws pad into the fabric of my shirt. It circles round, its weight heavy, heavier, heaviest; I awake with a startled gasp for air.

It comes in waves for moments, minutes, hours. Out of no where, for no reason, or reasons I can’t understand.

There’s a fog, a hazy blurriness around the edges, the feeling that at any moment your throat might finally close in, the unstoppability of the tail curling tighter and tighter and tight—-

I blink a bit and try to watch from the outside. I squint into the fog as an observer, no longer the active participant.

From this vantage, I separate myself to watch the mental tantrum that trauma is throwing and feel the angry-toddler energy from afar. 

I recall that today’s mental clutter might be inspired by years-past conditioning. I recall that last week may have been especially challenging, considering I’ve had to narrate my dysfunctional story at two separate meetings, with two groups of people, for two separate reasons.

The first, an initial appointment for the annulment process. The next, an interview for my ex’s work.

Thinking about, preparing for, and participating in these story-telling pow-wows has taken me over. 

Do they think I’m crazy? Do they believe me? Will they be kind?

The breath comes shorter. 

It’s no longer a cat. It’s the slightest threat of his hand on my neck, he’s above me, the sex, the choking the gagging the hands on the back of my head, forcing it down my throat til it hurts I’m at the mercy of his larger-than-mine hands his hands over my face til my vision blurs its all just a joke. 

It’s drowning.

I show up at church, trying to explain what went wrong, very practically explaining dates and engagements and STDs and the reasons I shouldn’t have married this man in the first place.

I show up at coffee shops, trying to somehow explain that, sure, he might be good at his job, but no, I found him to be deceitful and manipulative and unreliable and rageful and really, no, no one else saw much of that behavior, it was reserved mostly for me, so maybe its unverifiable and it didn’t really happen.

Of course, everyone’s been kind, everyone has listened, no one has told me I was wrong. I still can’t turn off the nervous energy or the dreams or the circuit in my head running in loops warning me that everything is out of control.

I try to chase it away with sweat and yoga and reading and walking and writing and breathing and medicating.

It’s a little bit tiring.

I’m looking forward to the days these things don’t sneak up on me in such a visceral, physical way. 


In the meantime, I continue to observe.  

To be honest, it looks like quite the mess. There’s a party of diagnoses carrying on in my head and, I’m sure, a handful of fancy labels we could hand out like favors.

All I know for sure is that today I’m choking on anxiety and popping Reeses by the handful, trying to smother everything else.

Thankfully, the internet is a wide, wide world, and with gratitude towards to some handy YouTube videos and qualified mental health professionals I’m starting to hone in on why the heck I feel like I’m losing my shit.

There is a particular fancy label, C-PTSD, or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that has felt particularly helpful as of late. This particular cluster of ‘stress responses’ has not yet been verified by the DSM (diagnosis bible for psychology), but nevertheless has provided me a framework with which to format my experience a bit more clearly.

There’s a version of PTSD we recognize nowadays thanks in part to education and in part to war-themed movies/Grey’s Anatomy. Collectively we’re able to recognize flashbacks and violent outbursts and are happy to non-judgmentally support those who are struggling.

We also recognize that PTSD develops in times of threatened safety, where the brain sees danger and reacts chemically to prepare the body for defense. Vigilant ‘fight or flight’ mode activated.

After time, with repeated exposure, this vigilance has the capacity to convert to hyper-vigilance. The mind hears the same warning bells day in and out until it loses the ability to distinguish between real or perceived threat. Every bell is an alert to action, and certain bells engrain deeply enough to become triggering alerts to action out of proper context.

Cue Marine triggered to flash-back by ceiling fans posing as helicopters.

Worth noting- this ‘fight or flight’ response can be triggered by any threat to safety, and the same chemical reaction takes place in the face of war, car accidents, house fires, etc., etc.

Incidents are different, body responds the same.

Makes sense, right?

What was news to me was that the ‘fight or flight’ response can happen in cases of psychological danger (aka abuse) too.

It’s a little harder to pin down, as it’s a little harder to recognize psychological or emotional abuse. The process wears down the mind differently- there isn’t always one particular moment of danger. More typically, there are many, many moments over an extended period of time.

Also interesting- while the brain does not distinguish between different flavors of physical danger, it also does not differentiate between physical or psychological danger, especially when the situation is perceived to be inescapable. The body remains vigilant until the brain learns new modes of operating in a dangerous world.

With all that said, apparently there is also such a thing as an emotional flashback.

This is where the mind provides inappropriate responses to situations that have triggered the need for self-protection in the past.

Cue panic attack when your Bumble match doesn’t text you back. Sounds stupid, feels like real abandonment when you used to have a husband who didn’t text you back for hours, sometimes days.

Then after the anxiety-soaked meetings I had this week, I’m starting to identify more of those triggers in my own life. I’ve come to this conclusion: I don’t like submitting my story for critique in ways outside of my control. Writing here? Under my control. Feedback at a minimum, at least to my face. At church? In public? At work? No thank you. 

I don’t like opening myself up to a place where someone can tell me I’m crazy. Yes, I certainly am attempting to move beyond requiring validation, but, yes, I lived in a world for many years where my experience was not considered to be truth. It takes a long time to move past that.

A sprinkling of other strange triggers I’ve been not-so-pleasantly discovering on this journey with anxiety:

My weight. I see the scale and my brain recites a mantra. I’m unlovable. I’m undesirable. I’m too much, too big. Worth cheating on. Worth leaving, ignoring, treating unkindly. I earned it, it’s my fault. I’m not worth looking at, I’ll stay away.

Online Dating. LOL all you want, but many ignored messages later my fixated brain and speeding heart tell me I’m alone. I’m abandoned, uninterested, unwanted. Intimacy is the ultimate danger and people, especially men, are not trustworthy. 

Gym Paraphernalia. This feels silly, but I swear every time I hear a shaker bottle I’m back at home with him. I’m sure I’ll be alone for hours, isolated, starving for attention, neglected emotionally, not worth investing time in, not as worthy of care as a set of abs.

Vague Criticism. Unhealthy, yes, to respond to normal snippy family dynamics with shame. I made the coffee wrong? Panic. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ll be emotionally distant. They’ll be cold. Hide.

Other reliably anxiety-inducing triggers: Lying. Misogyny. Unreliability. Jeans that don’t fit. Movies where couples are fighting. Blah, blah, blah. An interesting rainbow of bizarre crap my brain has done.

I’m looking forward to untangling the rest of this mess, because this is freakin exhausting. 

In the meantime, I whisper to my anxious cat, pet it and hold it and tell it it’s safe, again and again, over and over; he pads away to rest.

a season of shavasana

I’ve been making time for yoga lately. Not with the skill or intensity of a Lulu-clad millennial- I’m mostly in my room with my dog- but it’s felt good all the same. 

I used to practice casually in my little North Carolina town, attending beginner classes with retirees and other inflexible townspeople. It was around that time my marriage was at a low point, and I was grateful for mornings alone to unwind. It was just for myself, without people-pleasing or clock-ins or competition. My body moved the way it wanted and needed, without pressure or judgment or the eyes of a husband who loathed me.

All was well – I could even touch my toes! – until my foot broke, I had to stop working, and me and my paisley mat moved to California.

Unfortunately, years of picked-last-in-gym syndrome kicked in and I avoided yoga like the plague, unhappy in my skin and ability and intimidated by the way everyone in Southern California somehow grew up doing yoga (how?). I couldn’t compare or keep up, so I let it go.

It’s October now, another season of letting go. The heat fades, the colors change, the air cools, life stills. 

What am I shedding this season with the leaves? What am I letting settle to the earth with the reds and yellows and oranges? What is the sun warming again with its sweet autumnal light?

I turn into myself, stretch out tight hips, and unwind again in the evening golden glow.

I am in a new season, too. In my room, lengthening and strengthening, I’m given permission to reclaim what’d been forgotten as I greet downward dogs and fish and frogs like old friends.

I am learning to sink further into my body. I am slowly celebrating small victories, making peace with small failures and, through it all, enjoying my muscles and breath and sweat and strength.

More than anything, I find I’m enjoying this new space for aloneness. I sweep out the rooms of my mind, say goodbye to unruly, unwanted visitors, and close the door. There is quiet, there are candles, and at the center of it all, I lay a mat out to take care of myself, for myself, with myself. An outward sign that yes, I take up space in this world, and yes, I will foster that space. 

At the end of it all, I’m in shavasana, the corpse pose. On the outside, I’m looking like the meeting place of life and death. On the inside, I am anchoring. Settling into myself, my skin, my life, my mind, and letting go. Making room for the season I am in and new seasons to come. Sinking deeply into a rhythm.

As much as fall brings death to life, maybe this season, this shavasana of nature, is simply about making space. New space, new room, to breathe. To sink, once again, into a rhythm.


In this new light and space, I am most happily embracing this fresh sense of stillness. A significant stride, considering the unrest of last October.

Last year I was living at home, paying for lawyers, starting a new job, learning about life in a new state. This year, much is the same, but, even still, much is changed. Yes, I’m at home, paying for lawyers, not divorced, but, today, my heart is rested. The constant weight of his presence is fading. He isn’t driving me forward, moving me urgently towards the need to heal, pushing me towards conquering, fighting, processing, growing. 

I continue on my own road, this October, still conquering, processing, growing- but no longer at his expense. It is, this time around, for me, and me alone. This season, this version of me, is a little less tethered to that man, the one who held my heart and mind from a distance.

Now I move through my day, clear headed, both purposeful and purposeless, in a rhythm set by me. He doesn’t hover over my shoulder, doesn’t remind me I am alone, doesn’t tell me I am unlovable, doesn’t say anything at all. He isn’t anywhere to be found. 

Of course, occasionally, when I’m least expecting it, he does come back. October is for ghosts, after all.

Most recently, he was in a song floating over the trees, a tune from the family across the street. Those words had always brought me back to him, back to dancing at bars and at weddings, leaning into each other closer and singing louder, feeling breathlessly this is our life, feeling seen and seeing and wrapped up in home. 

My heart hurt, for a moment, and I wonder if these moments plan on revisiting me for forever. I wonder if I’ll go longer than hours or days- maybe years- until a song or a laugh or a smell returns my heart to his. And then again, for a moment, all the sorrow and all the ache will be back like a strike of lightening, a piercing flash, before returning to nothing. Just another rain storm, just another fall. 

I wonder if someday, at the end of these earthly days, I’ll see him again in another flash of light. Another strike without the pain and the anger and sadness and brokenness. 

I wonder if a part of my heart, a part of my soul, will be his for always. And I wonder if, maybe, someday, those littlest parts will be together again, in the briefest exhale, ah, I know you, and there will be a moment of love, the way we meant it to be. Now, as through a mirror, then, as face to face.

Or, perhaps, more autumns will pass by, and it’ll all be nothing but a lightening strike, an unseen scorch of earth in an overgrown forest, buried and buried again under the falling leaves. 

summer love lost

“I don’t think I miss him anymore.”

The words are out of my mouth in therapy the day before my flight takes off, but then I’m here, in the state we grew up in. I swallow my words; it’s all back. This is a joke, right? I mean, I still thought about him every day, but it was fading to more of the odd passing thing. Not this nagging headache.

Damn. He is everywhere. He’s here in the way the roads twist through the quiet woods, the way the headlights reflect off the leaves, brights turned up the whole way home because no one else is on the road. I see him in the stars, the way they splash across the sky in a dance of quiet faithfulness, and I’m back to nights breathing fresh air after hours lost kissing. 

I feel him in the breeze; chilly sweater-weather in the cool northern summer night. One of those nights he took me to the top of the hill by his house, hopping fences and lending me his sweatshirt so we could watch the hours pass by with the crickets. There was a shooting star that night- I was convinced it was a sign. 

I think of the night after prom, swimming in the pool with friends, mixing drinks, crawling into bed at dawn in his old football t-shirt. I think of rides in the truck with my feet on the dash, walks through the woods in the thick humidity. I think of the initials we carved in the bench near the swamp; I think of the sunset we went back for after we were married. It was still just as beautiful. 

There was the sweet innocence of hand-holding, shy first kisses and kayaking. He let me tie my boat to his, and I didn’t mind sitting behind him and watching the way his arms moved. There was Rita’s and Friendly’s and all the silly places you go on dates when you’re young. Summers were always full of each other- me home for a few months, him home for a week or two. It was like stolen time. I soaked him in until I wished I could just melt right into his skin and he stuck to me like the bonfire smoke in my hair. 

How did that become this?

And when does this end? He is still here, burned into every memory of this state, the air and the sky and the trees. Why? And worse than that, why is he in all my favorite songs, my best memories, moments where I grew up? Moments with my family? Why is he in all the movies I love, songs I know by heart, foods I eat, games I play? Why is he everywhere? Every damn thing is his.

I’m not sure what to do here and I wish I knew when it would end. I want to be free. I want to be done. But then I think of the way he kissed me that first night and those summer stars and something about how kind he used to be leaves me lost. I still have trouble knitting these pieces of him into the fabric of what we became. It hardly fits, like a gold thread of magic through a forgotten gray quilt. 

I guess I could thank him for that, for the little bit of magic we stole in our summers. Something about that young romance seems hopelessly lovely… What an unwelcome trick time plays. It’s as if we finally learned the ending: Cinderella doesn’t keep her prince, and the enchanted forest is nothing but a tangle of poison ivy. Probably full of ticks, too, knowing that part of town.

I’d like to think that Cinderella will be perfectly happy anyway, maybe involved with someone a little more consistently lovely. A nice cobbler’s boy or baker or something. Maybe no one, and that could be okay for her too. I guess we’ll see.

a year of celibacy

Not exactly the most exciting anniversary in the world, but interesting, yes? In the absence of being naked with anyone but my GYN, I’ve been on a very educational journey.

For starters, I’ve learned some lessons in self-worth. The binge-eating misery of divorce (college/grad school/night shift) has re-shaped my body. While I am on my way towards healing my relationship with food, I am also finding that the size of my jeans should not correlate with how confident I allow myself to feel. I don’t need to lose weight to be happy, and whatever that number says, or doesn’t say, I deserve to take care of myself. If that means I don’t even know what I weigh, then that’s great too. 

Either way, I deserve to feel beautiful. And I deserve to buy some damn bras that actually fit.

Speaking of undergarments, the next time I let anyone else take off this fancy-ass bra things are going to go a little differently.

Next time, I will not allow myself to feel manipulated into doing anything I’m not comfortable doing. This is good bedroom behavior, but, not surprising, also applicable to daily life. I am not to be taken advantage of.

Some other tidbits I’m going to keep in the back pocket of my high-rise jeans:

Crying after sex means that things are no bueno. RED FLAG.

Sex should not be selfish. At my most open, most vulnerable, and most intimate, I should not be left feeling used.

I am worth the work. I am worth the time. I am worth the effort. Sex is good and it should feel like it!

Also good: being a woman. Women are homes. Soft places to land and safe places to hide, built on strong, durable, brave, unbreakable bones.

We don’t just exist to be attractive, and our femininity is not defined by our desirability. I am still a woman if no one sees me, wants me, or validates me. 

Of course, on the other hand, women are inherently beautiful. Beauty is good and our bodies are good. We are worth celebrating and uplifting and appreciating. This does not allow for casual use and degradation. Also to be avoided: gossip and comparison. Two very reliable thieves of joy.

Anyway, here I am, a year untouched, living in a body I’m finally growing to love. I’m grateful for this year of alone-ness in my skin, and I’m grateful for this Creator of mine Who was kind enough to take as much time on me as He did sunsets and oceans and wine. Maybe more.

How magnificent. 

possibly a touch of depression

These are the things I am trying to tell myself right now.

It’s okay if you don’t have it in you. 

It’s okay if you don’t have the energy to work out right now. If you can’t bike or lift or run, at least you can walk. That’s okay too. It’s okay to be gentle. It’s okay if you don’t feel like praying. If you can’t think of anything to journal. It’s okay if you you don’t feel like writing or talking to going anywhere. It’s okay when you get irritable. If you don’t feel as interested or as happy or as confident, that’s okay too. It’s okay if you need to take a nap. 

It’s not normal to wake up every morning and feel like your throat is closing because you have to do laundry/walk the dog/go to work/live your life. It’s okay to not want to feel like that anymore. Other people don’t have to live with that, and it is just too much damn work to keep up with. 

Also, it’s okay if you don’t get to the laundry/the dog/the work/etc., etc. 

It’s okay if you just ate a whole bag of chips. You aren’t bad, or ugly, or fat, or unlovable. It’s okay if you got a little drunker than you planned. It’s okay that you thought about hurting yourself but you opted for a whole box of cereal instead. Not great, but probably the better option. 

It’s okay if you need to take meds. It’s okay to want to feel like yourself again. You aren’t bad. You are good. God is good. He’s somewhere out there, helping you muddle through the fog. Also, it’s okay if you don’t know what choosing joy looks like right now. Maybe it’s just something less exuberant right now, like quiet peace. More like the rhythm of a lake than the roaring of the ocean. That’s okay. It’s all still wet.

Stop trying to go shopping to make yourself feel better/feel anything. Clothes aren’t fixing you. Makeup isn’t, bathing suits aren’t, bags aren’t, and food isn’t either. Food isn’t your only friend and isn’t the only thing that will make you feel good. 

Go lay in the sun. It’s warm. It doesn’t ask anything back. Just rest. Be held. 

Mostly, it’s okay to want to feel better, but it’s okay to sometimes not be okay.