After a year alone, I can celebrate the best relationship I have ever had – the one with myself.
A year ago, I walked out of an almost 7-year marriage. A relationship that spanned my entire adult life completely dissolved in front of my eyes, and all that I had to show for it was 2 beautiful, small girls. This was heart-wrenching, soul-deadening sad. It was a time of extreme uncertainty, during which I spend many nights crying right through. Not only was I afraid of the road ahead, tackling it alone, but I was also feeling immense guilt over what I had robbed our girls of. Only now, a year later, can I look back and see what I had saved them from.
The last sentence above is not intended to insinuate that our marriage was in any way unsafe for the girls. Their dad is a loving father, although not always completely involved. What I mean from that sentence is this: kids absorb what they see, and they remember what they feel. Seeing me, their mother, unhappy, has a definite effect on their psyche, and since this happened during their forming years, the effect can be devastating.
I left a relationship that made me feel insignificant, out of control, depressed, anxious, and owned. I had the distinct feeling that my worth was calculated, reviewed daily, and then my privilege was meted out based on the days’ worth. Every action had to be thought through – how would this be interpreted, who would be pleased/offended, will I be able to handle the future implications, etc. This was a daily battle, and a struggle I was beginning to lose. And my kids were watching.
After losing all the time and all that time, after leaving, I started to gain back my life. My own worth. I had so much to offer. Not only did I find myself, I have also found deeper friendships, meaning in family, joy in work and such pleasure in my kids. It stopped being about what was subtracted, more about what was added.
As part of my own journey, I have also made the following discoveries, which I think will be helpful to you if you have only started out on this journey alone:
- Life is like driving a car. Sometimes you need to put the brakes on, put in fuel, clean the windows, change the tyres, or switch of the radio. When life is going too fast, stop, get out and stretch your legs. Something not working? Then fix it. Change what leaves you depleted, do more of whatever gives you joy. But have enough wisdom to know when you need to change gears. And if you have littles who are on this ride with you, always make sure they are strapped in safely.
- Invest in relationships. Please do not see this as a free pass to begin dating – it is not. After leaving a relationship that leaves you a single mom, you need a lot of healing. A lot. So get on that. The way you end one relationship is often how you start the next, so if the last exit was traumatic and chaotic, that sets the stage for the next one. Work through your feelings, your crutches, hopes, dreams, fears. Everything. And do that in community. Make real friends, people who accept you for who you are, even when the makeup is streaming down your face. Especially then. Friends who will tell you when you are being overly dramatic, who will pick you up, and who will love you enough to always speak truth. Find these people wherever you go – you will be surprised at what is revealed when you open yourself up for it.
- Stop putting your kids first. Yes, they are the reason for living. Yes, they are precious, and you should love them unconditionally. Does that mean you should forego sleep, nutrition, alone time, sanity, for them? No. love your kids, have their best interests at heart, but don’t stop living your own life. if you are in financial hardships, make sure they are taken care of BUT not if that means you don’t have enough to eat, that you don’t have anything to wear, that you cannot afford your medication. Make a plan that will ensure both their as well as your own needs are met. Sometimes that looks like swallowing your pride and asking for help. Other times it means asking someone to help you better spend your money, to allocate it more realistically. Either way, think of yourself. If you fall and cannot get back up, who will then look after them?
- Life is glorious, and consists of more than your pain. This was a hard one to swallow. How could I find joy in anything when I was in the middle of an ugly divorce, with difficult kids and strenuous financial circumstances? Because life can be more than one thing at a time. You can feel defeated and grateful at the same time. You can cry over what you have lost while laughing hysterically at the newest saying of your 4-year-old. You can love your new freedom while being scared of tomorrow. See the glory, feel the joy. Live life. in the end, your kids will learn more from this than anything else – teach them how to feel your emotions without them controlling you, and to always see the silver lining no matter how small.
- Love is a choice, and an action. Although I have been in my fair share of magical moments, where you feel instant connection and the chemistry is almost tangible, I want to point out very clearly that that is not love. It might be desire. It might be any number of things. But it is not love. Love at first sight is a myth, since love can only be when you choose it. And that choice needs to be made every single day, and then shown. You love your kids, you choose them every day, you decide what and how much you want to do for them. Yes, unconditional, but even that is a choice. So don’t close yourself off to love. It will happen again, and this time you will know to see it for what it is – a beautiful choice.
365 days. Some very hard, some so great I still think about them. Not much has changed, yet everything has. We are better, further along, more grown and much more grateful. I still cry over my failed marriage, for various reasons. I still wish I could go back to simpler times. But that happens in my weaker moments, and then I remind myself that we are good. My kids are happy. I am happy. And then I am so grateful for that day when I knew enough was enough, and that I had the courage to say it.
The Japanese practice a way of mending broken things so beautifully that it is an artform. They call it Kintsugi, and it means putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. This leaves the item stronger, more beautiful, with renewed purpose. That is your life. By embracing the flaws and imperfections, mending the broken things with gold, you can allow your life story to be one of hope and encouragement. My story speaks of this, yours will too.