Accept Feeling Alone In A Crowded Room

We (Liz and I) don’t seem to know how to say “enough.” Today, that thought sits heavy on me as I sit alone in a crowded room. I’m at church, nominally among friends. But I’m alone. I don’t feel like I’m a part of this community in more than a superficial sense. I have few friends here (depending on how you define friends). I know several more names. And I’ve been in this ward longer than any other since I left my parent’s house as a teenager. In spite of that, I feel like a foreigner.

I think some of our current dilemma is tied back to that feeling of isolation. We both have extended ourselves trying to find a community. I did that through the fire department. She has done that by going back to school to finish her degree. At the moment, we are dealing with the consequences of that search for community and friendship.

Liz is feeling overwhelmed as she tries to navigate the commitment associated with her classes and performance preparations. She is a week or so into her second semester, and feeling deeply taxed trying to meet academic expectations while managing Michael and his education. I suspect she also feels stressed because the demands on her time have really cut into the other things she normally does to keep our relationship and household running smooth. Today she is particularly stressed.

Normally, I would be filling more of the gap left behind. But in my search for community, I have become pretty central to the local fire department. I agreed to 4 months of training, and as a result am gone 12 hours a day, 3 days a week through Christmas. I should have said no. I didn’t. Now I’m committed. I want the training, but timing sucks.

This is a hard thing. We are looking at 4-7 years of Liz managing school. The first year is proving to be a tax on our relationship. No relationship is unaffected by stress, and mine is no exception. It is hard when both people are taxed. When there is little left in the tank at the end of the day and all you can manage is to crash in bed alone while the other is working on something that must be done, it places a straining load on ties that bind.

We have been through terribly difficult times before, and survived together. We have built new communities repeatedly. We have survived terrible times together. This is no harder, but it is also not particularly easier. Knowing we will make it out the other end intact makes it bearable, but only just.

The stress on our relationship makes my sense of isolation deeper. It makes it harder to do the things that soften the impact of the stress. It makes it harder to rely on each other because both of us are tapped out. We are shifting back into the survival mode we used when things were bad years ago, and that worries me. Last time I was there, the long term damage was significant. I deal with it today, and I am scared of what it means to add more to that.

The easy answer would be to back out of excess commitments. Easy, that is, if you forget all the baggage that would follow. Liz didn’t just spontaneously decide to go back to school. It was a long time coming, and is important for her. I didn’t just spontaneously decide to serve my community in the capacity I do it now. Walking away from commitment isn’t necessarily a viable path.

Then there is the fact that Liz rode with me through years and years of school. She rode through years of constant uncertainty as we moved from place to place. She kept the family together and alive while I worked and did school. She sacrificed greatly so I could have the professional development opportunities I did.

I didn’t understand her sacrifice at the time, but life has taught me, and now I know better (but imperfectly) how much I owe her. Whether she knows it or not, I owe her the opportunity and resources required to help her have the kinds of personal/professional growth I took for granted for so many years. She is overdue. I need to make space for her, and push some of my own need for community/development to the background.

That is a challenge. I need to say no to opportunities I want. This is her time, and I need to protect it. I need to let this be for her. I need to be okay with being alone in a room for now if that is the cost of helping Liz do what she needs to do.

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