By Audra Carmine
My current divorce coping strategy– I walk my dog, I cry and I listen to Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Conversations on headphones so that no one will talk to me. My husband and I are on our second separation, and we aren’t even actually divorced yet. There’s still time for a few more break-ups, a few more punches to the heart, and honestly, there’s a chance I’d totally do it again, get back together, be reckless like that. Say the word, almost ex-husband, and I’d jump back in, heart on my sleeve, divorce papers burning in my wake. If anyone ever told you that divorce is clean cut and the best decision they ever made, well, I am not that person. And the world needs to hear from more than just the people whose divorces served as an instant reincarnation machine, a propeller toward success, a doorway to a life they never dreamed they could have lived. I kinda want to punch that person in the face. Because the truth is, I long for my marriage. I long for it in a way that feels like an addiction. I yearn. I crave. I have withdrawls. I sweat it out. I ache. I fantasize, I idealize. I want to recreate that first blissful hit of togetherness over and over again. My abandonment issues have never been louder, and no matter how many pictures I see of happy divorced women with surfboards and small dogs living in LA, I just don’t buy it. I’m not there yet.
But back to Oprah, always back to Oprah. As soon as I press play and hear Oprah’s rich, familiar voice say, “I believe the greatest gift we can give ourselves is time, “ I lose my shit. I watched Oprah devotedly as a child, and then again as an adult, while I nursed my newborn children. The sound of her voice touches my heart in such a way that I feel vulnerable and immediately undone, which happens to be exactly what I am seeking right now. I am on a quest to keep true to my purpose as a truth bringer, to continue to shine light even in the shadows, to retain vulnerability, release fear and choose love even in the face of the greatest loss of my life. When we separated for the first time a few March’s ago, I cut myself off from the people I love, from my yoga practice, and from my own wholeness. I labeled feelings good/bad, should/shouldn’t and lived in a world defined by separation. I beat myself up and villainized my ex. It was a survival move, straight up. And when we are in survival mode, fear is driving the whole operation. I don’t blame myself, it’s what I had to do to make it work at the time. I was anesthetized by grief, my heart was guarded tightly, and an outpouring of feeling didn’t come until months later when it was a smidge of a little bit safer. This time, this heart punch, I want to feel. I want to feel so fucking hard. This time, I am choosing to be awake, to not abandon myself to the wolves of coping strategies that numb me out and shut me up, so I listen to Oprah.
In an older episode I heard recently, she and Elizabeth Gilbert discussed Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The first time I learned about the hero’s journey I was a sophomore in high school, and I literally had no idea what my teacher, Mr. Weston, was talking about. I was fourteen. Mr Weston had a beard, and a PhD in literature from Purdue. He wore cool circular glasses, rode a motorcycle to school everyday, and in the classroom, he burned an incense called Black Love he got from the minimart down the street and placed ornate, rich colored scarves on his desk. When we studied poetry, he lowered the lights in reverence. It was awesome.
Many of his students had only ever been to Catholic School, where we literally wore identical uniforms for nine straight years. Expressing uniqueness or separating oneself in any way was met with shame, suspicion and exclusion, so seeing Mr. Weston’s freak flag fly, even if only at what–I suspect now–may have been half mast, was profound. He must have been crazy and totally brave to have chosen strangeness over conformity at an institution, and in a time, where being radical, even in Portland, Oregon, automatically left you on the outside. The thing that I took with me through the years is a question he asked after each lesson in a lilting, somewhat sarcastic voice: “Comments….questions….existential angst?” I see Mr. Weston’s question as an invitation to meet myself again and again. Yes, I have comments. Absolutely, I have deep burning questions, every single day. And, you better believe I have some existential angst. What is existential angst, but an invitation to know ourselves better? To feel deeply the longing to know our purpose in this life? Existential angst is the beginning of that hero’s call, deep within each of us, that asks us to step-up, to step-in, and to live a whole life rooted in love, rather than a divided life springing from scarcity, reactivity and fear. To experience existential angst is to experience the longing to meet our purpose in the world, however imperfectly, and to answer the call.
Be warned. Answering the call of the hero is hard. It’s dangerous. It can ruin your life. Imagine an ordinary person, like Dory before she finds Nemo, or Luke Skywalker still living on Tatooine, simply going about the normal business of being them. Then, something happens–either originating from a deep internal shift, external circumstances, or a combination of both–that calls upon the Hero to journey into the unknown, to embark upon an experience that will call upon them to give up life as they once knew it and to be transformed. Ugh, right? You can probably already tell how hard it’s going to be. It’s at this juncture that the Hero has a choice–to answer the call or not. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her interpretation, makes it very clear that there is a turning point here. We can say no. Let me repeat that, we can say fucking no, not this time universe, fuck off. We can sit on our hands and not show up. We can look the other direction and pick at our nails. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been living this life in its grand array of shit storms and blessings so as not to answer the fucking call no matter how much I want to punch those so-called happy divorced people in the face.
So, if the Hero looks into the mirror one day and says, you know what, I have to do this (and it does feel like a have-to, it’s like a gut feeling that won’t shut-up. It’s the worst). The Hero says to themselves pep-talk style, “I know it’s going to be difficult, I have no illusions, no grand fantasies. I’ve heard from other heros that this quest thing is not for the faint of heart. I realize I’m going to experience the unfamiliar, and probably be tripped up and land with my face in the dirt once in awhile, both of which don’t feel safe to me, but, despite all that, I have to do this. This, this moment, is what I am meant for. This is my call. I am saying yes.” And off the Hero goes, sword in hand, ready to face the dragons.
However, as the reality of the tasks at hand dawns upon the Hero, there is a hesitation. We have all been here. I believe this is, in part, why my husband and I turn back toward one another again and again. Our love is familiar and safe. It’s comfortable in its limitations, and what lies beyond our marriage appears, on the surface, to be scary, lonely, sad and really, really agonizing. After all, this is the unknown we are talking about. It’s not like bed and netflix, it’s like the upside down in Stranger Things. Our normal tricks and habits don’t work here. The same jokes don’t land. Our old coping strategies feel lifeless and worn out. The path is dark, and there is weird plastic stuff floating everywhere, and the overall feeling is one of what the fucking fuck? Joseph Campbell writes that “If you can see your path laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take, that’s why it’s your path.”
This fear of the unknown, and the desire to quit, is called the refusal of the call. It’s that moment when the Hero says to themselves, “You know what, this has been great? I feel truly honored to be here, and I’ve learned a lot, but I have no idea what’s going on. In fact, this hurts. It’s not what I expected, and I just want everything to feel normal again.” This is the moment I experienced when I went back to my marriage, and I am grateful I did. It’s part of the quest. I wouldn’t be writing this without the refusal of the call. Oprah points out that Martin Luther King Jr. experienced a classic case of refusal of the call early in his career. He wanted to keep it simple, to have his small church, to be a preacher, and raise his family. But, as it does with all of us who say yes, the call persists.
It’s at this point that the Hero enters into the battle. Things are not what they once were, and not yet what they are going to be. This is the middle, the hardest time of all. Joseph Campbell calls it the dark night of the soul. This is a time of loneliness, sorrow, grief, and reckoning. It is here where we experience a collapse of old ways of thinking, knowing and being. Ekhart Tolle writes, “The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self.” The hero must release all ego, all fear, and face the monsters in order to transform. It’s required. It’s a part of the cycle, and once fear is truly released and the battle is won, the hero is transformed and knows what it is to be connected to love. Personally, I’m not all of the way there yet. I still want to punch happy divorcees in the face. I am scared as hell of what this year might bring. I still long and ache and idealize my marriage. But I know what the pay off might be, and it keeps me in the game. The reward for having said yes is a deeper wisdom, a release of the hypocrisy of fear. A renunciation of the illusion separation. A seeing of ourselves as we truly are, whole and unified, no matter what. An expression of love, no matter what: husband or not, life you thought you would live or not, children in two houses or not. And if we are whole, there is no fear, the only thing left is love. That’s it. Love. The Hero has access to an inner aliveness that was not there before: the uninterrupted connection to love. Freedom. I have wanted this connection to mystery, to the the welling up of love that is available to us in any moment, that is our mother jammin’ birthright, my whole freaking life, so I am saying yes to the unknown, yes to the call. And one day, I might just be one of those happy, reincarnated divorcees living in LA with a small dog and a surfboard telling a crying woman in headphones that this will be the best decision she’s ever made.
Audra Carmine is a writer, mother, yoga teacher, workshops presentor and owner of three yoga studios in Portland, Oregon–Love Hive Yoga. She has studied writing with Ariel Gore, Merridawn Duckler and Annie Dawid. Audra can be found on instagram here.