Spatial Disorientation

What I’m about to share is personal. Very.

I didn’t create this community because I am a shining vision of transcendence and have it all perfectly figured out. Not even remotely. On my very best days I’m barely holding it all together with a roll of duct tape and a couple of electrical ties. On the contrary, I created The Pilot Wife Life because I am royally screwed up, life is hard, and I wanted to let you know that you were seen and fiercely loved by someone else that totally gets it. No one is perfect.

I’m not here asking for advice, sympathy, and most certainly not criticism. This is our story of brokenness, choices, and ongoing restoration. I am extremely protective over my privacy and especially my family, and writing this has been a very difficult exercise in faith for me. After I finish, I will probably sit hit here with my finger hovering uncertainly over the ‘post’ button for several days deciding if I am going to chicken out until I accidentally hit send while aiming for the delete button. Fat thumbs and auto correct are my downfall.

I am sharing our story because 1) I believe someone out there desperately needs to know that they are not alone in their current pain, 2) I want you to know that if and when you find yourself speeding nose down toward the ground, you don’t have to give up and accept the fiery crash that awaits you, and 3) it’s only fair to you as my beautiful and devoted community that I be candid, real, approachable.

I am, however, asking for bottomless grace and compassion as you read this and that you will simply love us well as we move forward in the journey. I’ve been guarding our secrets closely for some time, and I’m a little scared to share them. In some ways, saying these things aloud makes them a little more real than I want them to be. However, I also believe there is tremendous value in truth. I can only hope that sharing our flaws and brokenness strengthens this community, or at least an individual life or family, in ways that I cannot currently begin to consider or perceive. I can only hope; it gives me the courage and strength I need.

Be gentle with me, friends. Our hearts are still fragile.

Part of the problem is that there’s not enough real in our world. We live in a very affected society where authenticity has taken a solid backseat to the perfectly contrived. We filter, crop, edit, adjust, zoom, blur, and pose our social media lives to present the Glamour Shot version of our existence to the rest of the world. Our ‘friends’ only know the carefully manufactured versions of ourselves that we have put on display for the masses. Really, if we were being completely truthful, it’s all most of them want to know. It can be extremely isolating because, though hundreds of people might know us, no one actually knows us. We tragically feel more alone than ever before in time. It’s also extremely dangerous because we spend our lives trying to live up to our own falsified personas…while constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else’s seemingly blemishless perfection. It’s a recipe for disaster and a factor in today’s overwhelming epidemic of loneliness.

There's not enough real in our world. We live in a very affected society where authenticity has taken a solid backseat to the perfectly contrived. Click To Tweet

I hate everything about it. The fakeness. The pretentiousness. The isolation. And quite frankly, keeping up those kind of pretenses is exhausting, isn’t it? Look, we all have stuff. And in the light of our glaring imperfections, I hoped we could use TPWL to help one another do this life just a little better and live to courageously to fight another day. We have! But I believe we also have to be candid with one another in order to do that well – even with the hard stuff.

So, there’s something I desperately need to tell you…

The last 7-10 months have been extremely difficult for me. No, strike that. They have been absolute hell.

This year has crushed me. I have buried [too many] beloved pets, had a heartbreaking falling out and breakup with my long time ministry partner, suffered the loss of four friends (2 plane crashes, one terminal disease, one suicide), cried with young widows as they grieved unfathomable losses, watched the big wide world all around us seemingly lose all sense of kindness, compassion, or sanity, struggled with a headstrong teenager, dealt with a massive and very stressful home renovation, stumbled heavily under the burden of unexpected financial issues, watched my husband make a major directional change in career, stood helplessly by and watched the man I love struggle under the weight of life while I could do nothing to help him, found out our young cousin (who has a newborn baby) has cancer, struggled with extreme loneliness and periods of depression, watched helplessly as many of you have gone through devastating life circumstances, fallen victim to illness and health problems (can you say stress??), and said a heart-wrenching goodbye to our beloved grandfather as dementia cruelly stole away his mind and then took his life too.

That’s all on top of homeschooling my two children, managing the farm, running a business, up-keeping this community, developing and launching my own app, and dealing with the general, day-to-day frustrations and nuances of being married to a traveling spouse.

Oh, and my marriage imploded.

This pretty much sums it all up.

Yes, you read that correctly. I know that this is going to come as a great shock to almost everyone that reads it, including some of our closest friends. I’m truly sorry about that. I am a very stoic human being. That’s just who I am. For better or worse, I have trudged along silently under the tremendous weight of our brokenness, keeping the truth well guarded from pretty much everyone I know in an effort to protect my family and preserve what was left of us. Plus it’s kind of hard to talk about. Not exactly a fun dinner table topic, you know? Pass the potatoes and by the way our marriage is falling apart. Rolls anyone?

The weight and severe loneliness of it all has brought me permanently to my knees; but perhaps, on second thought, that’s where I should have been in the first place.

Welcome to the tarnished, dirty, unfiltered, real truth. Our truth.

The date was December 15th – ten days before Christmas. It’s a day that I will never be able to erase from my heart, try as I might. Usually, it’s my very favorite time of the year. Last year I despised every last second of it. Some of you will probably vaguely remember that I took the second half of December off to orient myself and recenter my life. I told you I needed ‘a little oxygen’. The truth is, I was in full blown hypoxia. And sadly, nobody had a clue that I was gasping my dying breaths. Surrounded by people; utterly alone. That’s where I was.

We had a fight.

The argument, itself, was about nothing…and everything…all at at once. The details are not something I feel particularly inclined to share with you. Like I said, I am very protective over my family, and I still believe publicly airing one’s dirty laundry is neither conducive to restoration nor helpful to anyone else’s walk either. It’s easy to point fingers at one another when the world implodes. However, to place blame is a great folly. His fault…my fault…it hardly matters now. It takes two to tango, even when the dance is a destructive one. No, this post isn’t about blame and guilt but rather transparency and hope.

It suffices to say that ugly words were exchanged, harsh revelations were realized, unspoken grievances were unkindly voiced, and uncrossable lines were permanently crossed. The world as I thought I knew it was thrown into a full-blown tailspin. A piece of me was extinguished that day and a gaping hole was rent in my heart. I would be lying to you if I told you anything less. With one knee-jerk choice, love and trust were shattered into a million fragments and our marriage was left broken and bleeding on the floor.

I left him. I packed up my kids and my dog, and I left. I had no intentions of ever coming home. I spent the next eight hours aimlessly meandering around a nearby small town, crying my eyes out, deciding whether I was leaving – pretty damned sure I couldn’t stay. Sitting alone and broken in our empty house, I know he was faced with the very same decision. I’m not sure either one of us really knew what had hit us.

How in the world did we get here?

It’s called spatial disorientation. A pilot will occasionally fly into a cloud bank where there is no visual stimuli to orient him/herself to the outside surroundings. Without the normal visual cues, they can experience a fantastic disconnection where their brains tell them they are doing just fine when in fact they are completely inverted and/or losing altitude. To battle this phenomenon, they are taught to trust the instruments, trust the instruments, and trust the instruments some more when faced with IFR, i.e. nonvisual, circumstances.

However, our brains are strange and wondrous machines. The delusion of normalcy that their minds create during spatial disorientation is so overwhelmingly real and tangible, that sometimes [generally new or inexperienced] pilots disregard their training, trusting instead the distorted physical and vestibular clues that the brain is force feeding them. They become so completely and irrevocably convinced that they are right and the instruments are incorrect, that they illogically choose to follow their own fallible instinct instead of the hardcore evidence. It can and does end very tragically.

By the time the disoriented pilot exits the clouds sideways and nose down at 200 knots and realizes his/her mistake, the damage is done and they are headed for fiery disaster.

As it turns out, you can experience spatial disorientation in your marriage as well.

I had no idea we were falling – or at least, I had somehow convinced myself that I didn’t. Spatial disorientation. I can’t remember exactly when we entered the cloud bank. I know it was a gradual transition camouflaged by circumstance. I kept telling myself it was ‘just the stress’ or we were ‘just tired’ or ‘just not feeling well’. When he’s constantly gone and only comes home for short stints, it’s pretty easy to pretend that everything is perfectly fine. It’s a simple task to feign for a few hours or even a couple of days at a time that life is okay. You apply your pretty filters, photoshop out the blemishes, crop the background a little here and there, edit, adjust, zoom, blur, and pose your public lives to create the Glamour Shot version of your existence to present to the rest of the world. We don’t want to be judged or condemned by our friends, family, church, neighbors, etc., so we play the part and recite the prepared prose. “Everything is fine,” we answer robotically. “Just fine.”

Our brains repeatedly told us we were doing just fine when in fact we were completely inverted and losing altitude.

The people around you are so busy photo-shopping their own airbrushed lives that they can’t see you desperately gasping for air. Living life with others – really living it – is hard. It’s messy. So they avoid the hard questions, they ignore the obvious signs, they pretend they don’t see the growing tension between you and your spouse, they conveniently overlook the tear in your eye, the changes in your demeanor, the bitter undertones in your words. Then they act surprised when your marriage makes a fiery collision with the earth. They don’t want to slog through the soul-sucking muck with you, not really, because they don’t want to get dirty. It’s easier to simply ‘like’ the pretty, neatly edited pictures of your perfectly posed life and walk quietly away. Sometimes they say cutesy, cliche things like ‘I’ll pray for you’, but they don’t. Not really. It’s just something pretty to say.

They say drowning is a silent death. Well, it’s true. You can be surrounded by an entire community and drown to death without anyone noticing. I know.

They say drowning is a silent death. Well, it's true. You can be surrounded by an entire community and drown to death without anyone noticing. I know. Click To Tweet

Even when the instrument panel lights are insistently flashing their danger warnings, the alarms are blaring loudly, and the attitude indicator is spinning wildly out of control, the spatial disorientation takes over and you ignore it altogether. You tell yourself the instruments must be incorrect because things are okay.

You and your spouse paint on your pretty masks and put on a proper puppet show for a few days, miming happiness and posting your Glamour Shots. After all, if it still looks like a good marriage on the outside, it’s still a good marriage, right? Then you both simply wait for him to go on the next trip so that everything can get back to ‘normal’.

Life gradually becomes better when you are apart. You both find yourselves glad that he’s leaving and sorry he’s coming home. You both claim to enjoy your ‘me’ time. It was true in the beginning, but truthfully it’s now mostly because neither of you particularly enjoy your ‘us’ time anymore. Neither of you will admit any of it out loud, at least not to one another. You both sweep those tell-tale warning signs – the dirty looks, the building resentment, the apathy, the dishonoring side comments to friends, the complacency, the snippiness, the coldness, the diminished sex drive, the building silence, the devices you use as a buffer, the bitterness, the body language, the excuses, the constant criticism – under the rug and go on trusting your own distorted instincts.

That’s the beauty of it all, right? When you aren’t getting along, you can simply ‘deal with it’ for a couple of days and then it will conveniently go away, temporarily at least, when you are apart. But each time the problems and frustrations go unresolved, the chasm gets just a little bit wider and a little bit wider until one day you find it is completely impassible. Given enough time, a tiny trickle of water can carve a canyon.

You stop praying – at least real, intentional, sincere prayers – for one another. Your quiet time with God becomes limited to nonexistent, at its best. You take the third strand out of the cord, and it all begins to come unraveled. You’ve wandered way off the flight plan for your life; you just don’t know it yet.

Like a slowly building storm, each added life stressor, each sarcastic exchange, each missed kiss and emotionless goodbye, each new trip, each small argument turns the skies progressively, almost imperceptibly darker as you unknowingly cruise along towards disaster. It’s a slow fade. You know that you can no longer see the horizon and that the journey isn’t all that much fun anymore, but you’re pretty sure it’s just another annoying pop-up storm cell and you will soon pass through it. I mean, we’ve all been there before. The deception of normalcy that our minds create is so overwhelmingly real and tangible, you convince yourself everything is okay…because you want to believe it. And instead of righting the inversion right then and getting that baby back in the blue, instead of listening to your instruments and pulling up that nose, you keep hurdling along in the delusion, unaware that your nose is pointed directly at the ground.

Then one day you pop out of the clouds and find yourselves in an uncontrolled tailspin. Believe me, it can happen to anyone. It happened to us; this is our story of spatial disorientation.

Let me be clear, there was never any infidelity on either side. We have always honored our vows and our purity. He is and always has been an amazing father to our children. He is an extremely talented pilot and a hard worker. He is also the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back and then the ones from his closet too. He’s a good man. Very. I say that without reserve. And for what it’s worth, I am a pretty okay person too. It had nothing to do with how good we are.

It’s not that I stopped loving him either. I have always loved him. And though I don’t feign speak for him, I believe vice versa to be true. We just didn’t love one another.

We simply found ourselves in the precarious place where we felt we didn’t ‘need’ one another anymore, or maybe even more accurately, that the other person didn’t need us. We felt alone when we were together. We stopped fitting neatly into each other’s worlds. We had lived apart for so long that we had each created our own separate, comfortable little universes – ones that didn’t necessarily include one another anymore. Our lives were chugging along in different directions. The distance made that impossible to see until we were very far apart. I had my routines; he had his freedom. When we came together, it didn’t make sense. The puzzle pieces didn’t quite fit. He felt like he didn’t fit in; I felt like he was an inconvenience to our schedule. He wanted to do what he wanted when he wanted; I wanted to do what I wanted when I wanted. We no longer wanted to do those things together. We didn’t even know what together felt like anymore.

It’s a pitfall of aviation.

Like I said, I don’t know exactly when or how we came to that point…only that we did. When we finally opened our eyes and realized we were completely inverted; it was almost too late. We were already plummeting out of the clouds towards the ground at a tremendous rate of speed.

If you find yourself facing your own December 15, you have two distinct choices – accept that you are going to crash and burn or pull up that nose and fight it for all you’re worth. We had a life-altering choice to make. It wasn’t easy. The brokenness was debilitating and overtly real. The pieces of what was once us were scattered to the ends of the earth. After hours of heart-wrenching deliberation and screaming angrily at God intermixed with sincere prayer, I finally went home tentatively, skeptically, painfully. Because marriage is worth fighting for.

And after all, there was really nowhere to go but up.

The ground was coming at us fast, and we made a choice. We pulled back on the yoke for all that we are worth, together. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been very painful for us both. We’re still making mistakes, but we are trying. We’re still finding out stuff about one another that isn’t neatly cropped and filtered. At least we now know where we are, and that’s half the battle. Well, maybe more like two-fifths. Here’s what I now know for certain, it’s not worth winning the battle if you end up losing the war.

We have both been deeply hurt by one another. Sometimes humans do that. It really sucks. We are both still strong-willed, hard-headed, independent, opinionated people who like things done our way. You have to be those things to survive this life, but you also have to learn to balance that side with grace, compassion, gentleness, submission, and forgiveness. We’re learning.

There have been a lot of apologies, a lot of soul-searching, a lot of praying, a lot of painful conversations, a lot of counseling, and a lot of hard stuff to overcome. And we are nowhere near finished yet. We both have to lay aside our selfish pride on a daily basis and choose to fight for one another. Believe me when I tell you, it is a choice.

But I’ll tell you what, it’s been hard. So very, very hard. I’m not going to lie.

It feels like each day brings more and more good moments, but we still have a really long way to go. That’s okay. It’s okay to not have a perfectly cropped, edited, adjusted, zoomed, blurred, and posed life to present to the rest of the world. That’s simply not real. There’s not enough real in the world.

This I know; we are still here, together, flying for the most part in the same direction. We’ve started to gain control of the tailspin and we are no longer spatially disoriented. I believe in my heart of hearts that there are beautiful, blue skies for us somewhere not too far up ahead.

I love him. With all my heart, I do. I always have. And he loves me too. I guess we just got a little disoriented for a moment.

I’ve thought long and hard about the implications of sharing all of this with you. It’s still very raw. We are still figuring it all out. Even amidst our own struggles, I chose to continue to fight daily for your marriages too because I still believe it matters immensely, and I know now more than ever before the importance of a strong, supportive community surrounding your marriage. When I said I love you, I meant it. I hope you see that.

Hindsight is 20/20. I have so many new experiences, insights, thoughts, tips, and above all hopes to share with you as we move forward. I guess if there was a ‘good’ part of all of this, that would be it. We (my husband and I) both want to use what we have experienced and learned through this difficult valley in our lives to guide and love you better – to perhaps prevent someone else from falling victim to the same level of spatial disorientation that we both experienced. It was actually him who encouraged me to candidly share our story with you despite my own continued hesitation, so I share this with his full knowledge and consent. After all, we are a team.

Most of all we want you to know that you are not alone.

Social media makes it easy to believe that everyone else has it all figured out all the time. We’re here to tell you they don’t. Filtered images, well-worded reflections, and carefully chosen stories create a false sense of perfection that hide the truth – that everyone struggles from time to time. The backlash to this is that when we need people the most, we isolate ourselves even more because we fear the judgement. I think the real unfiltered truth in all its grunginess is far more beautiful than anything we can conjure up. It means we don’t have to hide our weaknesses and imperfections from one another. It means we do not have to wallow in shame anymore. It means we can stop pretending to be something we’re not. Besides, keeping up the pretenses is exhausting anyway, right? Let’s be real.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. We are all flawed, imperfect, human beings doing our best to put aside our own selfish desires and place another person first. Sometimes it’s pretty hard – impossible even, without God smack dab in the middle. Every marriage has periods of blue skies and periods of jarring turbulence. Every. Single. One. Anyone that tells you differently is lying. We all find ourselves suffering from spatial disorientation sometimes; we just have to learn how to combat it. We can do that, together, as a community. We can be one another’s instrument panel.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Every marriage has periods of blue skies and periods of jarring turbulence. Every. Single. One. Anyone that tells you differently is lying. Click To Tweet

No one should have to do this alone. If you find yourself inverted today, I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with you. It happens to everyone. You do, however, have a choice to make, and I hope you to choose to fight for love. Is it going to be hard? Undoubtedly. But there’s nowhere else to go but up at this point anyway. Listen to me, there is hope! There is unfathomable beauty waiting on the other side of this turbulence. These are more than just a bunch of empty words; we’re living proof of it. We know what you are going through. Don’t give up, friend.

If you haven’t yet hit a patch of turbulence, you eventually will. That’s just life. Teach yourself now to trust your instruments. Don’t wait until it’s almost too late before you figure it out. Don’t let yourself become spatially disoriented. However, my hope is to build an even stronger community here at TPWL to hold you up and pull back on that yoke with you when and if it does happen. Marriage is worth fighting for. Don’t ever forget it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Decide now.

Me and my handsome husband on a recent date night.

This is our beautifully broken story in all it’s glory. I hope you will receive it with understanding, grace, and compassion. I hope it helps someone else out there pull up before it’s too late.

I love you, aviation family…

But most of all, to my husband, I love you. You are an incredible father, pilot, husband, man. Though I have failed to tell you nearly enough, you amaze me. I need you by my side. Always. I cannot imagine life without you to hold me, encourage me, and challenge me. I am so very thankful that we get to do this crazy life together, even on the hardest of days. You make me a better person. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would choose you. Hands down, nose up. Let’s FLY this baby. Blue side up, together.

Angelia (a spatially disoriented Pilot Wife)

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21 thoughts on “Spatial Disorientation”

  1. Thank you. I thank God for the person He made you and for the way you are impacting our lives. Let’s all keep fighting for our marriages. They are worth fighting for.

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