Back when I was married, I was on my way to work, sitting in horrific traffic. I called my mom and had plenty of time to lament about my life.
“I am on a treadmill and I amazing on it. I can go really super fast and while I’m running, I can multi task! I can run holding onto the handles or with my hands in the air. I can talk on the phone or text. I can rattle off to do lists and add more things onto my list. I can read or watch movies. And I get off the treadmill and get some shut-eye and the next day I do it all over again. And today I realize that while I’m a superstar on the treadmill, I’ve actually made no progress.”
And there I had it. Explained as succinctly as I knew how, in all its sordid, boring and tedious glory. I was totally unhappy. I was working like a sled dog and yet I had nothing to show for it. My morning started with waking up early, walking and feeding the dogs, then getting in the shower and getting ready for work. Then waking up the girls and feeding them breakfast and getting them gathered up for school and dropping them off. And then it was my turn to start battling traffic to work—45 minutes of it. That’s when I made phone calls, usually to my mom. Then I got to work and stared at a computer screen all day, feeling more and more like a blob. Windowless, airless, soulless. I made a great income, I had a job that many college graduates dreamt of landing, I was good at what I did. And I hated it.
And on the drive home, more traffic. My daily phone calls to my BFF Julie to share with her the unhappy existence of The Life of Lizzy. How did this life become mine? Was this really all there was?
When I got home, I was a check writing machine: to the nanny, the pool guy, the maid, after school peeps, pre-school tuition, the mortgage, taxes, soccer and skating coaches, credit cards—faster and faster and faster, everyone with their hands out wanting money. And then the real fun began—starting dinner, making lunches, putting laundry away, homework help, walking dogs and feeding animals and, best yet, waiting for my husband to get home. I prayed that he would be Happy Drunk (I could sort of live with that guy) and not Mean Drunk (which was a horrific, frightening and evil guy that I loathed).
I was desperately unhappy. Some evenings I sat in my driveway, staring at our big house and wishing it would all go away. I wanted to simply start driving to Destination Unknown. But I couldn’t. I was stuck. With a house I didn’t want to store stuff I didn’t care about, married to a guy I didn’t like or love, with two daughters I loved more than life itself but really had no time to enjoy, feeling suffocated, exhausted and bewildered. How did this life become mine? The mortgage, marriage, career, dogs, 18 vacation days a year and unlimited sick time, all of it? Yuck. I was exhausted, uninspired, and my priorities were all messed up.
What if I quit my job and opened up a cupcake shop? I had the whole thing pictured in my head. I’d call it Let Them Eat [cup]Cake. I wrote down cake/frosting combos. It would be totally glammed out and retro 1960s in pinks and black. But I wasn’t courageous enough to give up the 401k and pension to actually do something bold like that. I dreamt of packing up and moving to Costa Rica and getting a job selling tours to local waterfalls. But mostly I dreamt of ditching my alcoholic husband. He would come home with glassy eyes, fidgeting hands, and I would wait to see if he would start screaming (Mean Drunk) or wanting to go somewhere fun for dinner (Happy Drunk). Actually expecting The Great Alcoholic to actually help out around the house was pointless. He did little to nothing to manage anything at home and if I asked or beg or became angry, there was complete hell to pay with the temper tantrums and screaming fits that would ensue. I did my best to suck it up and make the best of it. But sometimes I failed and those fights were legendary.
Was it a midlife crisis I was experiencing? Or was I desperately unhappy and knowing that a life with meaning and purpose was waiting out there for me, I just needed to be brave enough to find it? Because one thing I did know: This life of mine sucked.
…And then I got diagnosed with cancer. Talk about an instant life switch. Like in a second.
I was officially diagnosed on a Friday. I packed up the girls and the cat and moved a week later. I saw my husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic) on the Saturday that I pulled out of town and drove away. I handed him a stack of bills and a checkbook. Until that day, I managed all of our household finances and bills. I was meticulous at making sure that everything got paid on time. I obsessed over our budget, reconciled our account every two weeks, and made sure that I knew where all our money, retirement benefits and accounts were, all there in one nifty place should one ever need it. I had begged Rob to take over that job. I had scheduled endless evening “meetings” with him to hand it all over, none of which ever happened. It wasn’t easy having any evening discussion with a man who was rarely ever sober after five in the evening, after all. But now he had no choice. I was sick, getting ready to head into chemo and stem cell transplants and frightening numbers of pills and procedures, and I was no longer capable of managing finances.
“Here you go,” I said. “I don’t care about anything. Pay them or don’t, it doesn’t matter. In fact, you can cancel the insurance first and burn it all down. Whatever.”
Oh my—the horrific texts and phone calls I received over the next several weeks. Screaming at me, accusing me of stealing and being lazy. Demanding that I do more to manage finances so he could… um, well, screw a new girlfriend and drink more. The difference this time was that I really didn’t care—not about him or money or possessions. The only things that mattered were important: my health, my children, and my family and closest friends. And by “family,” my husband was no longer part of that unit. The thought of being sick and in that man’s presence was revolting and just the site of him made me cringe. I was officially done being around anything that wasn’t positive, uplifting or meaningful. Life would never be the same for me. Thank goodness. So sad that it took cancer to make that happen.
Here I am almost three years later and I still have those priorities in order. My health is still most important to me. I still take pills that leave me crazy fatigued sometimes. I need to eat healthy and exercise and take lots of vitamins. My children and family come next. I love spending time with my daughters. I actually know what their favorite colors and foods are. I know their friends’ names. I talk to them endlessly about what’s going on in their heads (this can sometimes be scary!). I love to travel and read. I spend time with my parents. My mom and I love to go get coffee and oatmeal in the morning. I love calling my friend, Katherine, and going shopping for no reason other than to have a chance to talk. And best of yet, I write about things that I’m most passionate about—cancer, multiple myeloma, divorce, survivorship and parenthood. I love connecting with readers and meeting people from around the globe. Life has taken on meaning and joy.
A purpose filled life? Yes. At last.