What does it mean to survive?

(And with the mere asking of the question, I hear the voice of Gloria Gaynor calling to me, singing those defiant words.  And I think of ol’ Chuck Darwin, who didn’t come up with the expression “survival of the fittest” but is always linked to it. And then there’s that TV show – is it even still on? Has it survived? But I digress.)

Survive. From the Latin for “live beyond.” Some calamity strikes, and if it is not fatal, we live beyond. That is the literal sense anyway.

But what does it mean to survive in a deeper sense? I have survived rejection, heartbreak, separation. I am, some people try to tell me, better for it. So how come as the weeks keep rolling away from that milestone day in court, I feel so little like a survivor. At least not a triumphant one.

There are the still-too-frequent thoughts of the Ex. No, no, don’t worry; not thoughts of longing or lust or love. More like intense flashes of anger. Deep, un-Buddhist like hatred. Still. And memories, of course. I expect, want, them all to fade, but they cling too prominently to my cortex. And as a friend said today, not in a way meant to add to my angst, but just matter-of-factly: maybe the memories never will be completely erased. No, I realize that, not with the way I clamp down on so many facts and feelings and scenes of my life and never let go. But the emotions tied to the Ex, can’t they dissolve a little bit? Get at least a little hazy? And with them, this too-painful sense that 11 years of my life were for naught, those years spent living the ex’s lie about who we were?

My therapist, Dr. Chomsky – and others, too – tells me I’m expecting too much to have changed inside the ol’ noggin so soon after the divorce. Getting the legal decree does not throw a switch (unlike the one discussed here, that the Ex threw so long ago). Yes, I expect too much, quite often of myself (but then, paradoxically, at other times I expect of me almost nothing at all). Still, I wanted to be in a better place by now, have my new life if not figured out then at least moving in a direction that gave me confidence for the future. Instead, I told the doc the other day how I fear everything collapsing: I easily picture myself alone, destitute, and in the gutter, barely holding on to sanity and self-worth. Surviving in only the most basic, biological sense of the word.

It was the height of irony, this last session on the couch: I told the good doctor I wanted to stop seeing him soon, partly for financial reasons (the good news – one of our fine local health insurers deigned to cover me, after putting me through grilling by two different nurses. The bad news – they’re charging 50 percent more than they originally quoted for the privilege of getting a policy with a ridiculous deductible. But it could be worse, as outlined in this fairly recent NYT op-ed piece; it’s s good to know we don’t have a health care problem in this country), and partly because I was “better,” relatively speaking. And then I proceeded to break down about half way through as I told him I just wanted to rediscover the happiness I once felt inside, the innate joy I see in the baby picture of me hanging in my old bedroom at my mother’s (OK, granted, we were probably all a lot happier in those days). Happiness that began to erode years before the Ex said “I don’t,” partly because of the changes that came to our relationship after the big move to Chicago. An erosion abetted by my father’s death, which was never properly grieved, I don’t think, until this matrimonial death began.

Ah, I can hear it now –

God, Burgan, it was more than 4 years ago, the first death – get over it! You survived.

Yes, I did.

And what, you’re going to mope about this second death, this emotional death, for just as long?

I sincerely hope not.  Though perhaps.

Survival, I’m learning, is a funny thing. What doesn’t kill us may or may not make us stronger. I do not know. But some of those things do scar us, in ways we may or may not see. I feel like the scars are still forming, and I don’t know what contours they will take. But I’ll try to end with something of a positive spin: scars come after we heal. So I guess I am healing. I am surviving. There are worse alternatives. But surviving is not without some pain, I see.


~ by mburgan on March 4, 2011.

8 Responses to “Surviving”

  1. Hey…TIME damnit…you are expecting too much too fast. Deaths of any kind take time to get over..if we ever do, as I can recall all of the deaths in the family and my reactions, etc..the death of marriage, no matter how the marriage was or perceived, takes time, its a loss. I still have scars, and what its 7 years later (oh maybe I shouldn’t tell you that)..but really it gets easier…ok, my attempt at words of wisdom..LOL.

  2. Yes, I am impatient. Funny, not wanting to keep feeling pain and loneliness…But I do appreciate your words of wisdom, and I’m sure my scars too will be there for quite some time; at times I think the real healing won’t begin until she is completely out of my life (come on, house, sell! It might help if the new realtor actually gave a hoot about us and our house….but that’s another blog post). It is a loss, of so many things, and I’m still working to replace all that with something positive. Still working…

  3. i thought this realtor was better…you want me to check around for one? for when your contract is up?

  4. She seemed like a go-getter, but she has been very unresponsive–and we signed a 6 month contract! S is already looking for someone else…

  5. Living through a painful period in one’s life is a lot like walking through fire. There is the idea of “getting to the other side of it,” or “having it over and done with,” however, in my experience, I could not fully let go of a past love relationship until I learned how to live in the moment that I was in. And that did not happen until I completely shifted my focus, both physically and energetically into a new location, work and way of being in the world. It’s not really something that words can convey . . . rather a daily practice of finding something (it can be anything– even small stuff, like making a bowl of soup) and reveling in every facet of it just for the sake of being alive to see it unfold. Find something else to love deeply (I purposefully wrote “something” not “someone”) and lose yourself in the loving. Slowly, the pain and grief of loss will loosen its grip on the heart. There is so much tragic loss in life, yet so much beauty, wonderment and joy too. Lose yourself in the wonderment of something, and the pain will dissipate. Be gentle with yourself.

  6. Maura,

    Thanks for a great, provocative comment. I think finding that something rather than someone is key too; I keep hoping it’s going to be my creative writing, which I’ve felt a little estranged from of late. I think cooking is a little bit of that daily practice. Yes, find meaning in the now of little things,I think that’s key. And being gentle with myself; I sometimes have trouble with that. Thanks again for reading and for sharing.

  7. Hi Michael,
    Divorce, death, sickness – all a part of life, no? Everyone experiences everything differently and in their own time. Have you considered volunteering? Giving your time to some charity – teaching or mentoring or building a house – will raise your spirits and sense of self value tremendously. It is in the giving that we receive.
    Take care.

  8. Colleen, Wise words. I do some volunteering, but could do more. The house comment was interesting, as I do feel a need to build something, if not as concrete as a house; community maybe, or awareness. I’m hoping the spring will bring some inner rebirth as well as in nature…

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