The Big D

Hidden away in a Lisa Frank neon spiral bound notebook from 1997, lies a two page letter written by a much younger version of myself to my future husband. I remember my pen gliding over the thin white sheets writing the words, ” Dear Husband…”. My heart felt like it might explode out of my chest. That word seemed like the most important thing I had ever put down on paper.

Husband.

Saying it, writing it, even thinking it- it felt like a prayer.

Who would this guy be? Would he love me as much as I already love him? I wondered if his hand would fit perfectly in mine as we sat in movie theaters, snacking on popcorn. I thought about what our first kiss might feel like and if I’d know that he was the one when it happened. I imagined him looking at me from across the library and seeing in his eyes that we were meant to be. I hoped he would want kids, a zip code close to our families and brunch every Sunday with friends. I desperately wanted him to be the kind of guy who didn’t mind my frizzy hair or my singing in the shower. Whoever he was, I knew he would be perfect.

I was eleven.

My only experience with boys was passing notes in study hall and practicing kissing my Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic poster after brushing my teeth every morning.

As time continued to pass, I became more vigilant and determined to find my guy. Walking through the mall after school, my eyes would dart back and forth the food court, hoping I’d catch his eye. Anyones eye. If someone else could see me for more than I could see myself, maybe that would quiet the voices in my head that screamed obscenities at my adolescent body. I had high expectations that my first kiss would seal the deal. He would kiss me and he would never need to kiss another girl ever again. He would be mine. That’s not exactly how it went. My first kiss happened in the middle of a late night game of man hunt in my backyard, where my crush tackled me to the ground and half kissed me, half licked my face.

He tasted like destiny.

I never saw him again. It’s probably for the best, I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my days with a man who would want to lick my face.

One day I would find Mr. Right and I would be able to give him all of me. He would know the way I like my tea, how many times I hit the snooze button in the morning, how I fold my towels and my favorite playlists from high school. He would know the good and the bad. He would know every freckle and every fear. We would build a life together and when it was our time to go, our future children would spread our ashes out into the ocean while our song played in the background. Anyone who couldn’t do these things or fit in my life the exact way I had envisioned it, they would be deemed unacceptable to me.

Onto the next.

And the next.

And so on.

Walking down the aisle with my dad by my side, my parents beaming from the front row, and the sun shining down on a beautiful lake in the middle of Connecticut- I looked into the eyes of a highly qualified candidate. The parts of him that didn’t exactly align with my vision could be changed. There was time for that. Get married. Have kids. Grow old. Become each others soulmates on the journey. The exhausting hunt of finding him had worn me down, and I figured this was the best shot for that white picket fence, two car garage and king sized bed.

Every Disney movie I spent hours watching and re-watching taught me that I had to find this Prince Charming. My unrealistic expectations for what a desirable partner should be were validated every time a helpless, beautiful woman (usually a princess) was saved by a strong, handsome man. Their entire existence seemed to revolve around being found by a savior while maintaining their beauty regime. I used to walk around Chicago trying to figure out how to look street smart and pretty. I didn’t want to come off as too bold or self-assured, I had to maintain that fine line between the girl next door and the girl who could kick your ass. I’m not either of those, but I played the part as needed.

It has been ingrained in our minds over and over that we will only have one true love. One marriage. One partnership. One person forever and ever. ‘Til death (or divorce) do you part. When that person appears in your life, you will have exactly what you’ve wanted. Your search is over. Entering a marriage young, I was clueless. I remember getting ready on my wedding day surrounded by a group of women I loved dearly. As my mom, step-mom and mother-in-law were all fussing over my train and clasping my pearls, I looked at my bridesmaids. All young, smart, beautiful and somehow tragic. I felt sorry for them. They were in their mid-20s and their search for their happy ever after wasn’t over yet. They would still have to go on first dates, awkward one night stands, the agony of breakups and the uncertainty that they would ever find someone. I was lucky. That search was over. I could at least count on that.

Until the day I filed for divorce.

I was in a marriage with someone with whom I would never fully accept. Once the diamond got dusty and the savings account drained, I started to feel the dread of, ” Oh shit. Now what?”. I thought that if he made more money, if he smoked less pot, if I quit drinking, if we moved back home, if we went to every marriage therapist in the state, that we would be able to get back on track. I promised myself that I would never split my family up, my kids would never have two homes and two sets of parents. Doing that would undoubtedly ruin their lives.

My parents divorce wasn’t something I could control. My own divorce wasn’t something that I could control. Whichever way the blame was thrown, it had to happen. There was a reason, a purpose and a lesson to be learned. One of the most profound things I have learned over the past few years in sobriety is that things don’t happen to me, things happen for me. God, the universe or whatever you want to call it- the force in my life that is greater than myself, has a plan for me that I may not understand right away. Tragedy, heartbreak, death, and loneliness are things that would have led me down a spiral of destruction in the past. When moments of clarity arrive, I’m able to recognize that emotions and events had to take place in order for my life to go in the direction it was intended to. I suck at reading maps. The direction I would like to take usually seems easier at first, but never leads me anywhere good. It’s not my job to write the map, it’s my job to ask for directions when I get lost.

It hurts, it’s painful and it routinely brings me to my knees. When I’m down there I have to ask for help, it’s not just handed to me. I have to be willing to put my pride away and sit in the vulnerability for as long as it takes. It might take a day. It might take a decade. When I let go and ask for help, I open myself to a different perspective and I am given an incredible chance of a life I never could have imagined.

Without a husband. Without my own home. Without a clue as to what tomorrow may bring. I am happy. Insanely happy. I’m also still crazy, resentful, mean, judgmental, ignorant and stubborn as hell when I want to be. I have the choice to sit in that garbage or humbly ask for guidance.

One morning a few years ago, I was brushing my teeth and looking at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t standing next to my partner getting ready for the day together anymore. I was alone. I tried to search inside myself to remember what it felt like to start the day next to him. I couldn’t. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I no longer had the satisfaction of sharing a connection that was so simple and yet so profound with another human being. I couldn’t remember what if felt like to be in love. I longed so desperately to feel something, even a slight bit of a butterfly in my stomach. I thought a person could only fall in love, not out of love. I had fallen straight off the cliff. We spent half our lives together and in that moment I came to realize we were strangers. It had become an ownership, not a marriage. I had to process that I had groomed myself into believing that I would only have that connection with my one and only. I couldn’t fathom how different I felt. It was like walking into a new house with the same furniture. You’re comforted by the familiar items, but the walls are new and strange. One day you can hardly breathe and the next you start to feel alright.

Better than alright.

I brush my teeth next to my kids. I sit in the stillness of the night next to my dog. I write down words that I’m willing to share once in awhile, because I’m not the only sober single mom going through it. I stopped planning my revenge on everyone who hurt me. I stopped wasting my time with the what-ifs and pray for the happiness of those I hurt and those I let hurt me. I don’t particularly enjoy practicing humility and understanding, but the peace the comes from it is immeasurable.

This is growing up from the mind set of that eleven year old girl who thought Mr. Right was a prize I had to win. I can love and be loved. I can be in a relationship or be single. I can share a connection, or loose a connection. I don’t deserve any more happiness than the next person. I don’t have to suffer or make anyone else suffer. I don’t have to waste time on people, places and things that I can’t change. Opening my heart and self to new experiences, new people, new perspectives and new challenges is how I want to spend my time now. None of us know how much we have left or how much has been wasted in the past, but we can sure as hell enjoy what we have right now.

Me.

Peace, she supposed, was contingent upon a certain disposition of the soul, a disposition to receive the gift that only detachment that only detachment from self made possible. – Elizabeth Goudge

Self-love, or lack thereof, has been the largest stumbling block of my life. I have constantly viewed my outside as too much and my insides as too little. If only I could shrink my physical size and grow some smarts on the inside, maybe I would like myself. Maybe you would like me too.

I need you to like me.

Please like me.

Once we’ve got that covered I’m going to need you to tell me exactly how much you like me several times a day. I’m not going to actually tell you that, I’m going to assume that you can read my mind.

Communication seems to be an on going issue as well.

Insecurity is as much of a part of my DNA as the color of my eyes. It’s been with me always, that loud voice screaming , “You will never be of any value.”

I remember as a child staring at my left arm and feeling embarrassed about the splotchy birthmark that spread out over top of my arm all the way down to my pinky finger. An older neighbor told me that it looked like a map of the world once. I wanted to cut my arm off right then and there. I didn’t want a map on my arm, I wanted a skinny arm. Thin. Long. Skinny.

I was six years old.

I remember learning about birth defects in 10th grade biology and suddenly realizing that this thing on my arm made me defective. My high school boyfriend traced the outline of it with his finger, saying he loved it. It was part of me, and he loved all of me. When he broke up with my shortly after to head to Boston for college my first thought was that he was probably the only man who would ever love me with this defective arm.

Defective and dramatic. Tragically dramatic.

Years later when I gave birth to my youngest daughter I did the same thing I did with the older two when they were born. I counted ten fingers, ten toes, and made sure I saw no birthmark. No daughter of mine would suffer the way I did. So much suffering.

For what? An arm? An arm that works perfectly well. An arm that has carried textbooks and children. An arm that hugs the people I love. What else matters?

When she was two weeks old, a red dot showed up on Lucie face. I asked asked the dr, I asked the nurse, I asked family members- Is that a birth mark?

Wait.

Is that one of those birthmarks that grows and grows and disfigures poor innocent babies all over the world?

Yup.

I watched day after day as it grew and grew. I cried at night when I was breastfeeding her, holding her hand, knowing that people would ask her, ” What’s that thing on your face?”. I imagined all the kids in school who would point fingers and laugh. I took my over dramatic personal experience with birthmarks and marked my daughter with a bleak future of isolation and insecurity.

Her birthmark stopped growing pretty fast. It was dark red and shaped just like a heart on her lower left chin. She was born on February 10th, and her sisters thought it must be shaped like a heart, because her birthday was so close to valentines day. She’s four now. Her birthmark is 99% faded, no one ever made fun of her, and when people asked what it was, it was never a big deal. She’s fine. She was fine.

I wasn’t fine. I was projecting my insecurities on a newborn. I hate that those thoughts ever crept into my mind. If her birthmark hadn’t faded, she would still be the beautiful, crazy, sweet girl that she is. Her birthmark has nothing to do with who she is or who she will become.

When I was in high school I used to spend hours on my Dell computer pretending to do homework. Instead, I was instant messaging this guy I thought was cool. He use big words. He talked about math and space. He quoted historians and famously dead musicians. He was interesting. I was boring. I would type out a message to him and before sending it, I would do spell check, use the thesaurus and double check to make sure I sounded witty enough. I signed up for dictionary.com daily emails so I could pull out a new word to spice things up if I started to sound too basic.

I’m not as smart as you. You probably think I’m dumb. Dumb and fat.

Even after treatment at fifteen for an eating disorder, even after countless appointments with therapists, all I saw was a stupid girl who still doesn’t have a thigh gap. I once dated someone who told me he liked having a little something extra to hold on to at night. I interpreted that as to mean he liked to spoon my belly rolls. Needless to say, we never snuggled again. Later in life, I spent hours on the couch of an older man talking about anything and everything. I felt understood, I felt smart, I felt appreciated and I felt worthy. I figured if this man thought I had something of worth to give to the world, I should start to feel that way too. That was all fun and dandy until he cracked a joke about me still carrying the baby weight from my last pregnancy several years before.

The hate just boiled and boiled until it became too much and the only thing I could shut it up with was a drink. Not one. Not two. No three. As the wine started to do its job, I started to feel better. I began to feel pretty and witty. I would look into the same mirror I had just been staring into crying and see a confident, beautiful, engaging woman who could do anything she wanted.

Get ready world, because here I come! Well, just wait a sec, let me finish this Pinot first.

I wanted more, more, more, more, more to feel less, less, less, and less.

Next came the tears and the blackout. The self loathing would continue to grow evry morning when I couldn’t remember what I did or said the night before. My pounding head would quickly remind me that if I pounded another drink with the sunrise, I would be able to reach that euphoric feeling of self worth, if only for a few minutes.

The same cycle over and over.

I’ve been sober for a few years. Sobriety has given me my life back. Sobriety allows me to be a present mother. Sobriety gives me a healthier perspective on how to cope with hard times. Sobriety has given me friends and love. I surround myself with other sober people and make a conscious effort to work on growth in my sobriety every day.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So, how come I still don’t feel beautiful or worthy? My entire outlook on life has changed, just like they promised it would. I have experienced happiness, tragedy, divorce, death, love and heartbreak with such a different perspective than before. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life even though some stuff really sucks some days.

When I sit down to write, I always hope that my experience may be able to help someone else. I write a lot about the positive changes I have experienced due to my sobriety. I do my best to make sure that the message I want to convey includes the miracle of sobriety.

This post is a little different. This post has been in my heart for so long, I just didn’t know how to share it. I have to be transparent and I have to be vulnerable to allow change. I know that things take time and every single moment of every single day is exactly how it should be. I know that I am not in control. I know that there’s something far larger than myself guiding me on my journey.

And yet- I still don’t know how to love myself.

I still want to apologize for being me.

Where does self love begin? How do I get there? The simple answer is prayer.

Someone out there must feel this way too. Perhaps just knowing that you’re not the only one struggling helps. By sharing this, I wanted to remove myself from the isolation in my mind that I have experienced with this.

This is me now.

I know that if I surrender, if I call myself out, if I stay honest and open- I can get through absolutely anything with a little help from a force larger than myself and the people who have always promised me that with a little work miracles do happen.

I’ve seen it in others time and time again.

I hope that I will see it in myself, with our without that mirror I stood in front of before.

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