Singing Bird from the Mosh Pit of Despair

It’s strange how one day you can be living in the absolute bottomless mosh pit of despair but with one decision you’re suddenly a bird singing on a rainbow cloud made of cotton candy.


I visited Amy, an older friend last week.  She is 77 and one of the best people I know.  Artistic, brilliant, kind warrior.  She’s earned her wisdom the hard way.  Loves life.  Dances.  Speaks Truth.  She and her husband went through similar things that me and mine are slogging through now.  She left their faith and he was hurt, angry, confused by what it would mean for them and their family.

I asked Amy how they got through it because honestly, I wasn’t sure how Lloyd and I were going to get through it.  It seemed we were at a stand-still.  Worse, a stand-off, and somebody was going to get irreparably hurt.  And it would probably be our daughter.

Amy said ‘I realized one night Paula, that I just needed to listen to him.  He needed to be heard, with no comebacks from me.  I just let him talk and I listened.”

I haven’t done much listening.  Been too busy martyring myself.   Feeling so hurt and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be myself that I wasn’t listening to his hurt.  Barely acknowledging it frankly.  I’ve been leaning away from the Catholic faith for 3 years now.  He has only had months to deal with it.  And you know, the way we both used to deal with our feelings back in the day was drink or drug them away.  I’m not sure either of us has really learned much about the adult way to process feelings.

Of course, as the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher shows up and the teacher showed up in form of a ready-to-happen-argument just two days later.

We were in the kitchen and ‘it’ started to happen.  I heard Amy’s voice in my head (and folks, my brain doesn’t work too quickly sometimes so it was kind of miraculous that I was able to heed that voice) and just let him talk.

I let him talk for a long long time and say what he needed to say and I shut up and nodded my head and just let him say it and I absorbed it.

I could FEEL the energy change between us.  I could FEEL him FEELING HEARD.  I could FEEL the shift- it was crazy.  It was too easy.  It was too good to be true.

Uh yeah.  It was too good to be true, because next he said something that I couldn’t let stand.  It was something that I felt was untrue and I couldn’t let it stand so I said something.  I don’t even remember what it WAS now.

Aye yi yi.  If only I could learn to keep my big mouth shut.  You can guess what happened.  Maybe the biggest, most intense, longest friggin’ argument EVER.  With our daughter in the house.  Nice.  Lots of crying.  Really insane dramatic ‘my bones don’t work anymore’ crying.  Lots of me trying, trying, trying REALLY fucking hard to be as reasonable as I could.  Trying to not give ANYTHING to fuel it.   Fighting myself.  Blowing it.

But not completely.

I wanted to leave, I wanted to abandon my mind completely to tell you the truth.  We were trapped in a circular argument that I saw no way out of, one that we’d have to have until the end of us or at least the end of one of us.

Ever start fantasizing about what you’re going to do with the life insurance money?  Nah, me neither.

I didn’t leave.  Not leaving wasn’t an olive branch, it was a toothpick, but he took it.  And then he said this:

“I don’t want you and Meg to feel like prisoners in your own home.  I don’t want you to feel like you have to go to church.  I want you to do what you want to do because you want to do it.”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing it.

I didn’t dare add anything to it.

Five thousand pounds of rocks fell off my back.

So, although I had already left the church in my mind and heart, he set me free.  He loved me enough to finally let me go.

We salvaged the day.  We all took the dog to the park.  Thank god for that dog.  It was weird and awkward but it was better.  We were breathing.  I wasn’t spending the insurance money.

I asked Meg later “Honey, are you glad you don’t have to go to church anymore?”

“I thought I would be mum, but I’m actually kind of heartbroken.”

It made me sad.  And maybe there will be this mist of sadness, of grief over us for a while.  It makes sense.  Honesty always has casualties.  But I think, at least I HOPE, the worst of it is over.

I have an inkling of what his decision to let me be me did to him.  He loved me with his actions that day.  He was brave and vulnerable and very very beautiful.  And I love him for it.

My soul is the grateful bird singing on that rainbow cloud.  Man it feels good to sing again.

Paula Howley stripper memoir, speaker, author

I do realize that I am naked on this cloud

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8 comments on “Singing Bird from the Mosh Pit of Despair”

  1. chelsea @ the new wifestyle Reply

    beautifully written paula and while i cannot relate to the religious side of things, i can empatheize with how hard that would be for both of you. what great advice amy gave to simply listen and without defense (and how freaking hard that is). i’m thankful for that dang dog too and i know you will all get through this though it sounds terrible at moments 🙁

  2. Ann Reply

    It sounds as if you and Lloyd have really heard each other. That’s a huge step forward! Love you both. Guess that Amy is a wise bird!

  3. Sheila Reply

    Hey Paula! I just discovered your website/blog by reading the comments on Chelsea’s blog, which you recently told me about. The long roundabout way of getting here but I love it. Sign me up!

  4. Vivien Reply

    Paula! I am ashamed to say I somehow missed your blog posts until NOW! I don’t know what the heck happened but I profusely apologize.

    I read your most recent two blog posts in one go, and man, it is POWERFUL. It brought tears to my eyes over how vulnerable, raw and powerful this was/is. What wonderful advice to be given and at such a “great” time too. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    • Paula Howley Reply

      Wow, thanks Vivien. I’m glad it was helpful for you and I really appreciate you sharing the impact it had on you. That means so much to me. 🙂

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