One of the worst things about being me at the moment is the feeling of being adrift - cut off from so much of my past, all that youthful optimism squished and, despite my best efforts and for the first time in my life, apparently incapable of jollying myself out of it.
But you don't have to be widowed to be in this state. People find themselves alone or cut off in middle life for all sorts of reasons. I've talked to many fellow bloggers who feel the same as I do - people in all sorts of situations. What links us is the sensation that we have fallen off the life path we thought we were on and we are having difficulty finding a new purpose to our lives.
It's an extremely scary feeling. I was always an upbeat kind of Puddock and I am used to making the best of what life throws at me. It is a new sensation not to be able to roll up my sleeves and...do what? That is the point of course - there is no point at the moment. For twenty years or so, I've known exactly what was required of me every day. [It wasn't necessarily what I would have chosen to be doing with my day but I had responsibilities to people (and dogs) that I loved and I was generally speaking, glad to be mum and cook, secretary and housemaid (okay - not so keen on the last one.) I didn't have time to think about what I would do if I was free of the responsibility. I bought into the get married, have kids, then sit back and be surrounded by family for the rest of your life thing, only to find myself kicked off that particular ocean liner and cast adrift three years ago. But that's just my story. Everyone has their own.
I came across a great book called Navigating Midlife: women becoming themselves by Robyn Vickers-Willis. I think I may even have bought it before the Golfer died (that's what I mean about it not being an exclusively widow issue) and there was one section that struck a particular chord with me, becasue it told me that all that pain and disorientation I was suffering could have a useful purpose. That thought got me through some tough times before and so, hitting a major trough these last few days, I searched out the book again and, lo, it was still useful! She describes it as a normal phase of our lives and calls it liminality. It is one of three phases in the transformation that takes place in midlife - separation, liminality and reintegration. Here's what she says:
There are strong feelings of confusion, bewilderment, disorientation, alienation, fragmentation and drift as we let go of our old self and personal world and float towards the not yet known more complete Self and newly created personal world.
In liminality we are like the migrants on board their boat on the way to Australia. They know they have left behind their old identity and their old life. They are not sure what it is like where they are going. Many find this time terrifying. Some start doubting that they can create a new life and wonder whether they could return to the old.
During this time we come closer to our unconscious. At this stage dreams, inner images, daydreams and writing helped me identify new parts of my Self and new directions for my life. I was also becoming more authentic in my relationships. Questions passing through my mind at liminality were:
If I am not the person I thought I was, who am I?
What is me and what is not me?
Am I ever going to feel 'normal' again?
What is the right direction for me?
What's important to me? What do I want to make time for?
How can I create what I want?
Later, she talks about moving into the reintegration phase but sometimes slipping back into liminality (and this is the bit that helped me.) She says:
Now when I am in liminality I remind myself to feel excited, rather than scared, as I know that I am likely to bring to consciousness another part of my Self. My reward is a more complete feeling of Self.
...in other words, all that disorientation probably means that you are making progress towards something better, stronger and on firmer ground.
I've highlighted the bits that really struck me. I'd also use a different metaphor. My feeling is more one of being kicked off the sunny path through the forest, full of bustling, noisy families and golden people and left with a dark and scary path through the wild wood, with no idea of where it's going. The thing that Robyn tells us is that that thorny path could well be leading to a wonderful sunlit glade, with deer and fluffy rabbits, and that we would never have got to that sunlit spot if we hadn't taken that dark and thorny road. Onwards and upwards people!