February | It Takes What It Takes

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Hello there! It's finally February! What a long YEAR January felt like, huh? Good grief, it was endless. 

How many of you are getting drunk tonight now that Dry January is over? Not me. I made the mistake of doing that last year, if you recall, and I wound up in the Drive Thru of a McDonalds at lunch cramming french fries into my mouth to kill the hangover pain. Tread carefully, winos. 

I have always found February to be a transformative month for me. It always seems like I'm tying up the loose ends of the year prior until the first of this month, and then I start anew. Last February, I cut off all of my hair in a fit because I was sick of being referred to as 'hot' in the office...it's what created the Hindenburg of 2016 that led me to that office anyway. For whatever reason, working around a bunch of men and the constant references to being, "Office Barbie" or whatever the hell, made me decide I didn't want to be that person anymore, so my reaction to that was to cut off my hair. It didn't help externally, but internally it was symbolic for me. I was free of that era and part of myself I valued and traded like currency. It was the first step towards embarking on my own independence and my own sense of self. I am smart, I am resourceful, I am independent. I was not just pretty with long blonde hair hoping to snag a man to take care of me and solve my problems. 

From that moment, I took charge of my life, and by the end of 2017, a new intolerance entered my being. I simply couldn't tolerate things I was obligated to tolerate anymore. Friendships, relationships, living arrangements, future plans, etc. I couldn't compromise what I wanted for anyone else anymore. 

A month ago today, I was sitting in an airport waiting on my lost luggage, drinking a chardonnay and crying on the phone over my untouched Caesar Salad, because my week in Chicago with my kids and loved ones made up my mind for me. I don't want to live in pretty condos all over the country living out of a suitcase. 

I want to go home to Chicago.

I am going home to Chicago this summer.

I will take my kids to their first day of school. 

I couldn't tolerate going along with a plan that wasn't me anymore. I am not a jet-setter. I freaking hate it. It takes me 2 days to recover from a trip, and then there I am back at it. In my bones I am a mom, a homebody, and a writer. That's all I ever want to be. 

I can't have Atlanta as home base anymore, either. I've really tried to make it home for three years, but I don't like it, and it just isn't for me. That's not a slam on Atlanta, I just never feel 'at home' here. 

I feel 'at home' in Chicago. I just do. I refuse to apologize for it anymore. 

And then the rest of my truth came out...

My three dogs are my three furry children. A life for them in a condo with me on the road all of the time is no life for them. It's bad enough now, and I have enough guilt being gone as long as I am with plenty of help and a fenced in yard. The stress on all of us with even more travel and a tiny condo in the city would just be too much. We would all lose our minds.

Rehoming them was suggested, and I tried to talk myself into going along with that..you know...'for the best', but the thought of any of them going into a concrete cell in a shelter because their new family didn't understand their quirks gave me panic attacks. I may not have chosen any of my dogs, and all three of them were basically dumped on my doorstep at some point in my life, but I made the commitment, and it is for life. It's a core belief of mine, and I can't go against it. For anyone or anything. 

That week with my kids changed things for me, too. It opened my eyes about a lot of things. I'm going to keep that private, but the fact of the matter is, I have two daughters who are at the age where they need a daily female influence in their lives. My son needs a strong female influence in his life so he doesn't resent me and become a raging misogynist. I have to make it work coparenting with my ex-husband. Have. To. I can't do that 1,000 miles away. 

And for those of you clutching your pearls and breathing into a paper bag right now over my decision? My new rule for everyone in my life is, "Don't expect me to do something you wouldn't do yourself." If you wouldn't live away from your children? Don't hold me to that standard. 

So there I was on New Year's Day in my final act of intolerance. I was flipping the script, changing all of the plans, and putting myself first. There would not be any final showdown, dramatics, divorces, fleeing one city for another, torching my career... I had achieved the independence I fought for since this time last year. My life has to exist on my terms. No amount of money or security that pacifies my fear temporarily will cloud what I really want again. Never again will I compromise what I want or need in my life to avoid someone else's disappointment. 

I have three kids and three dogs who need me. I chose to make three children with their father. I was of sound mind and made an adult choice no matter what immaturity, trauma, or whatever other elements went into that choice, the responsibility of managing it falls squarely on me. I am older, wiser, and independent. It's a totally different playing field, and I'm ready, 

This isn't a hero's journey of triumph. That teary phone call in an airport made January a bit of a psychological mess I didn't handle very well, but I did a lot better than I had in the past. 

After that phone call, though there wasn't any heartbreaking finality, and life would go on in a perfectly status quo way while thing were navigated for the future, I went home and got FUCKED UP WASTED. And that was nothing but my own fear reaching up from within and grabbing me by the throat. 

It's not the fear of being alone that cripples me, it's the fear of succeeding alone that can make me stare into the middle distance for weeks on end reading TMZ. It's that fear that makes me self-medicate with Chardonnay. It's that fear that makes me sabotage myself. 

I'm not even alone, it's more like this little voice in my head going, "It really is up to me." 

What's different now from even a few years ago, is I no longer possess that, "fuck you and fuck off," defense mechanism that motivates me because I could internalize that fear, turn it into rage because I had something to prove, and I could accomplish anything with laser focus. That gaping emotional hole has healed. I try to tap into it, I miss it, but it just isn't there. I guess because there really isn't anything to prove. I am independent and worthy of love. There's nothing to fight for anymore. 

I also can't repress and suppress like I used to. I still avoid icky things, but I don't file experiences in the archives never to be revisited again, I acknowledge them, feel them, and try to put them in their proper place. It has made this month very emotionally complicated for me. 

The day after the phone call, I was obviously hungover, but I dragged myself out of bed anyway, and went skating. I didn't want to go. Skating has so much past baggage for me, and I thought this particular path insulated me from the demons, and I had gone and blown it to smithereens because deep down I knew...

It was up to me. 

Only me. 

I felt like crap, and tears splashed the tops of my boots as I laced them, but I went out and skated. Two hours later, I left the rink feeling better, and not completely freaked out about continuing the journey on a different path. 

I'd like to tell you that's where I conquered January. 

Lol, nope. 

A lot of this month has been emotional paralysis, self medicating, reflecting, freaking the fuck out, being an asshole, great moments, airplanes, kids, dogs, life... 

I was in Chicago last week for Tater's birthday, and I was such a complete asshole the entire time, I am embarrassed for myself. A lot of times it was like an out of body experience and I was literally like, "the fuck is WRONG with you?" after I did or said something bitchy. I was especially awful to my ex-husband and he actually didn't provoke it. We have been coparenting rather well, setting an all-time 31 day record, but I was a total nightmare the whole time. 

I really needed to just be honest with myself and process why I felt that way and acted out. It was a combination of a lot of things, combined with some dusty files in the archives that were rolled out I'm finally acknowledging and grieving now that I'm ready, and my generalized anxiety about the future. 

On Tuesday back in Atlanta, I got out of bed, jet lagged and hating my life, but I looked in the mirror and said, "It takes what it takes." It's up to you. Not OG, not Gio, not Ex-Husbro, not my family, not my friends...

Me. 

So I'm excited to see how I transform this February. I have a lot of milestones coming up in the next couple of weeks that I hope set the tone for the rest of the year. If I want these things for myself and the people I love, I have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

It's up to me.

It takes what it takes. 

 

Jennifer Gulbrandsen