The Home Stretch is part four of The Diary of a POCF, a limited series written in honor of the Partners of Commercial Fishermen preparing to send or have sent off their loved ones. For those not in the industry, I hope the series lets you #knowyourfisherman in a new way. The series will run while Chris fishes sockeye in Bristol Bay this summer, 2021. Through 5 stories over 9 weeks, I hope to show you the emotional journey of loving a fisherman, including the uncertainties, frustrations, & joys, too. Click the following links to read the Prologue, Chapter One, Chapter Two, & Chapter Three. The final chapter of Diary of a POCF will publish on Sunday, August 8th, 2021.
Chapter 4: The Home Stretch
Chris comes home tomorrow, and I have anxiety. You’d think I’d be relieved, excited to have my Love back in my arms, and yes, I am all of those things! But when I realized that only I have a few days left of alone time, I got stressed. Protective, even. And I’m not sure it has a lot to do with Chris.
All this time alone had me thinking, and not in a good way. I have a secret that I’ve kept hidden for almost ten years, and it’s kind of dark: For a decade, I’ve had a feeling that at the age of 39, I would have some heart issue or die. I don’t why 39, but 39. I realize how fucked up it is to carry this fear for so long; I even tried to brush it off as paranoia back when I was smoking waaaay too much Sativa when we lived in Bellingham, Washington. The motherfucker hasn’t gone away.
But now that I’m actually 39, my fear peaked this summer to the point where I was barely functioning on the inside, though you could never tell from looking at me. Hell, I was suffering through this when writing Diary of a POCF Chapter 2, and I never mentioned it. I was too scared to talk about it for fear of making it true.
Over coffee one day in my parents’ kitchen, I blurted it out. (My dad is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist that has practiced for over thirty years.) “You have the power to change this,” dad said. He explained it would be tough at first, the hard-wired thing and all. It’s a bad habit that’s hard to break.
But the good news is, we have the power to change our story just by thinking differently! Thank the sweet Lord above! I bawled, crying on my parent’s shoulder, completely relieved that my secret was out and that I had a chance to flip the script! My mom helped me realized that the thoughts first arose a decade ago when I was deep into alcoholism and addiction. Maybe back then, I sensed that I wouldn’t be alive right now if I kept on that path. Unfortunately, years of thinking I would die at this age hard-wired me in a way that I didn’t understand until now. The strange part is, though deep inside I know I’m OK, I needed a third party to remind me. And the fact that my parents, in a sense, “gave” me permission to emotionally change this narrative may have made a bigger impact on me than if I heard it from someone else. (I realize this may be another issue for another time. Let’s put a pin in it.)
By coincidence, I opened the new Yoga Writers email newsletter later that day, and the subject was Fear. Yoga Writers founder David Holzer explained how he’s overcoming fear from his recent open-heart surgery:
“It’s completely understandable, but this is a level of fear I’ve never known before, and it tests my strategies of coping. I don’t want to live in a fear cage. The great thing is the techniques I use to get through the fear of writing and fear of going upside down work with big fear too. I accept I have fear, and I breathe through it. And because the fear is sometimes so big, I really have to put everything I’ve got into breathing my way out of my cage. So it’s ultimately a good thing. Fear is just a sensation.” – David Holzer of YogaWriters.org
Breathe! Fear is just a sensation! We are not our thoughts, and we have the power to control them! How great is that?
I used to make time each day for mediation, and clearly, as of late, I am not. Twenty-minute practices in the morning were my jam. I even did a three-hour meditation during a solar eclipse with a group that was quite possibly a cult. (Again, another story for another time.) But now, if I can sit for two minutes, or even take time for three deep breaths (hell, even one!), I consider it a win.
Yet, as we know, being alone and meditating are two completely different things. You can sit quietly in a space by yourself, candles going, a cool breeze, sage or sweetgrass, all the things, but your mind could be a heavy metal show. The “monkey mind,” as meditators call it. The hard part is not only quieting the mind but not beating ourselves up if we’re unable to make the noise go away. Our brains are computers, just doing their job to keep us functioning. But if we go down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts WHEN THEY ARE NOT TRUE, it will leave us paralyzed with fear. “Analysis to paralysis,” as my dad likes to call it. So, for POCFs handling ALL THE THINGS when their partners are gone, prioritizing our sanity needs to be number one. We got this. Namaste and Amen.
Ok, so maybe Chris has something to do with it.
He and his crew were hauled out in Bristol Bay a few days ago, which means the season is over except for putting the boat away. Our phone conversations are now less about fishing and more about home projects, deadlines, driving back to California for spiny lobster season, etc., and we’ve already triggered each other. Here’s an example:
Last night, I told Chris the estimate we got from the contractor to lift our home and rebuild the foundation. Our “new” home is a 1912 Victorian bungalow that’s sat for over a hundred years and many considered a teardown. For us, the thought of bringing this baby back to life is a dream project! Chris has always wanted to build a home, and I wanted my own office and a porch. So, when we saw her on Zillow while traveling Sedona, Arizona, over Thanksgiving weekend, we pounced. We knew it would be years of work – especially since we’re living in California half the year for the spiny lobster season – but we don’t have children, so what else we gotta do? Adventure awaits! So now we’re on the second phase of homeownership, where the honeymoon is over, and the reality of a full-home renovation is *gulp* more than we expected.
Between us, I expected it. I mean, we’re post-pandemic, building materials are up a million percent, and literally, all of our friends, family, and neighbors have warned how long home renovations take (forever) and how much they cost (more than you think). I normally wouldn’t drop this kind of information on him while he’s in Alaska, but he asked. It turns out it’s significantly more than he thought it would be, and I could feel his frustration building on the other end of the line. Not learning my lesson from Chapter 3 to commiserate with Chris rather than trying to make things better, I tried to fix it. My words fell short, and I resorted to:
“I’m just telling you what the contractor said. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
“I’m not blaming you,” Chris said, quick to let down my defenses. “I’m just expressing how I feel.”
I felt attacked, he felt unheard, and we fell into a cycle of miscommunication that we’re trying to break. It jarred me that even from 4,000 miles away, I was triggered by his stress and feared we were already off on the wrong foot. And now that I’ve somewhat controlled my monkey mind, for now, I worry that Chris’s energy will throw me off course.
I needed tools to help guide my emotions, so I went to the library for a book I heard about on the audiobook, Come As You Are, that I linked in Chapter 2. It’s called, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD, and reading it makes me feel like less of an A-hole for feeling this way.*
To Dr. Orloff, an empath is defined as a person with “an extremely reactive neurological system.” Empaths absorb both the positive and stressful energies around us because they don’t have the same filters to block out stimulation as everyone else. In the book, she shares tools for empaths to function more easily in the real world. Things like knowing your boundaries and how to detach yourself – with love – from the energy of others. The author states that “the closer you are to someone, the more intense your empathy and also your anxieties become,” and, “To an empath, time alone in a relationship is self-preservation.”
DOUBLE RELIEF! I can change the narrative that I’m going to die, AND I’m not a bad person for preemptively grieving alone time! I feel I’m not alone about mourning alone time. (If I’m not, please let me know in the comments! 🙏🏽) Many POCFs take on their partner’s stress from time to time from fluctuating market prices, beginning or ending a season, deckhand or captain issues, lack of fish, etc.….and if you have kids, multiply that by three. (Go, mamas! You are all QUEENS!)
Speaking of moms, this reminds me of a conversation I had with Jolene Colomy, a POCF who has been with her fisherman for over 36 years.🤯 Turns out, feeling that your fisherman is invading your space is normal. Here’s a clip from our interview:
Q: Fellow POCF’s and I have discovered that the transition of a fisherman coming home can be kind of a hard adjustment. How did you handle that transition?
A: “Sometimes, not very well. Because you’re on your own flow, you’ve got your own thing going. The hardest was with the kids because it was all being done my way. Then, he would step in and do things a little bit differently. Which he should, because we’re all different people.
It’s still that way when I have my way of doing something, and I get a little irritated. I can be snappy, and sometimes I get up and go, Okay. And sometimes I say, “Don’t forget, I’m by myself doing things a lot. And you need to think about that, too!”
It has to be an understanding that just because you drop in, I’m not doing it all your way, and you’re not necessarily going to have to do it my way. Here I was for basically three months by myself. And I went from that to him being home every night, because now with his retirement, he gets home by four o’clock every day.” – POCF Jolene Colomy
How comforting is it to know that a woman who has been married to a fisherman for four decades feels the same! We are not alone! On that note, I have an idea. Before we go down a rabbit hole of feeling guilty at any point of our partner’s return, let’s ask ourselves: “Is it worth it? Let me work it. I put my thang down, flip it and reverse it.”
WHY SHOULD WE FEEL BAD ABOUT EXPRESSING OUR FEELINGS?!! Writing this to you doesn’t mean I love Chris any less or wish to be single. I love our life together. I’m just a human navigating through the nuances of living with another human, a person I haven’t seen in over a month. A person that I need to share a bathroom with now. My feelings are legit! Our feelings are valid!
Though I can remind myself of this repeatedly, I’m still on edge because I know what’s next. There’s a strange adjustment period for a few days when Chris gets back, but he doesn’t feel it, only me. I remember the first summer we were reunited at the airport after three months of him fishing in Bristol Bay, Chris kinda felt like a stranger. It was awkward to touch him on the way to the car or make conversation on the drive home. I eventually asked if he ever felt the same way. Confused, he said he never feels awkward, just happy to be off the boat!
What I’m trying to say is, if we find ourselves working through a tough emotional time this season, it’s ok to feel anxious that the energy of our loved ones – and all of their stresses – are coming back in. The thing is, we don’t need to take it on and can still be supportive! Learning to “cut the cord with love” will make us healthier and happier humans in the long run. Pulse, we know the other option, and it isn’t good, not good at all. Just breathe through it and know you’re not alone. Here’s to trying our best!
P.s. God, please be with our fishermen as they travel back home safely. Amen.
P.p.s. Remember: “Is it worth it? Let me work it” We got this! 💑 🐟
How’s the season going for you? Do you find yourself with anxiety before your fisherman comes home, or are you relieved? Either way, you are not alone! Please share in the comments below!
> Read CHAPTER 5: THE READJUSTMENT PHASE here!