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.

Lost Love

It’s time.

You’ve been here long enough. Cut the chains and wipe off the ashes. You have to do this on your own. Take a good look around. Do you see anyone else who can take on this task? No. You’ve tried that before and when they failed, your prison walls came closer and closer. You’re lucky the claustrophobia didn’t kill you. You were so sure that it would.

Take a good look in the mirror. Notice the wrinkles that you once used lotions and potions to prevent. Notice the chicken pox scar on your forehead that a few bad bang haircuts couldn’t conceal. Notice the freckles that once gave you enough faith to let the light in, if only for a brief moment. Notice the frizz and grey hairs popping up on your head that you desperately tried to hide with conditioner and hair dye. Glance down at your arms and the extra skin that sways back and forth when you wave your kids goodbye on the bus in the morning.

This next part will be hard, but you are worth it.

Pull your shirt up and look down at that space on your body that you have wanted to cut off since you were a kid. Try to remember a time when it was smaller. Try to remember a time when it was bigger. Try to remember a time when you didn’t hate it. Think about all of the diets, cleanses, disorders, cuts, Spanx, abuse, and tummy control leggings that suffocated you. Pain is beauty, isn’t it?

Keep going.

Now, focus on your legs that couldn’t sit still. Remember how they couldn’t run fast enough to set you free. Then remember how they ran a little too fast from moments that could have lasted if only you could have stayed in the present. Look at that extra skin that looks like cottage cheese and recall all of the gels, squats and self tanner you tried to use to make the fat disappear.

Lift your head up and look straight ahead. Make eye contact with person staring back at you. Think about all the times you couldn’t face her. Your eyes were always too blurry or too tired to focus. Remember how you wore the shame, disappointment, guilt, hurt, and anger like it was a new shade of foundation from Maybelline. Maybe you were born with it. Think about how you learned to hate that face and what’s behind it Think about all the plans you had, the places you would see, the life you thought you needed. Remember how you told yourself over and over that happiness was a big house, a two car garage and unlimited funds on a credit card. Then, remember how those things brought you desperation, not happiness.

Close your eyes. Fold your shaky hands and breathe.

Take a moment.

Take another moment.

Now, open your eyes. Those wrinkles on your face are souvenirs from happiness. You laughed too loud, now you have smile lines. You looked up to the sun and crinkled your forehead to take it all in. The chicken pox scar that made you feel different from the other kids isn’t visible at all anymore, it’s just part of your face. The freckles are reminders of camping by the ocean, walking the dog, bbqs with family, sitting on the swing with your legs pumping you up to the sky. That grey hair is there for a reason, you’re growing. No one becomes a self-sufficient adult without a few grey hairs. Those flappy arms have grown strong with each child you have carried through the sunshine and the dark. Those arms are home to the ones you love with each and every bear hug.

smile lines

It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to feel fear. Just ride it through so you can feel something better. I promise, you will.

That stomach that you wanted to carve out of your body is the most miraculous part of anatomy. That space is where you get nourished to live each day. That space has been abused for so long, it’s time to have gratitude for it. Your belly holds the memories of each delicious family meal and homemade desserts. It’s an excellent communicator of your daily needs, even when you forget. It may have been the space where you grew a life inside of you. It may have grown or shrunk over the years, but it’s sacred. It is your temple. It sustains your life and holds the parts of you that create the magic and wonder of life. It’s been beaten and bruised over and over again, but it’s still there. Part of you. Big, small, full, empty, covered in stretch marks, covered in scars. You can suck it in or push it out. It doesn’t matter.

Still a part of you.

Your legs are powerful. They have carried you this far, show some respect. Have gratitude for the limbs that have kept you standing on your own two feet. They haven’t given up on you, they just keep moving you right along.

Look back at your reflection again. That is the face of resilience. You are the image of strength, intelligence, perseverance and determination. The parts of you that are on the inside are the most important of all. You’ve let the voices of others create your internal dialogue. I’m here to tell you that you are the only voice you need to hear. You can gain knowledge and inspiration from others, but your thoughts are yours alone. They aren’t your enemy anymore, they are your gift. Your worth and presence in this world isn’t defined by your fears. It’s defined by your ability to go through them and survive.

You are a survivor.

It’s time to love yourself again. Take away your filters and appreciate the person you used to be, the person you are, and the person you are becoming. You may not know when or how you lost it, but you have just created the map to lead you right back to it. It’s always been there.

Love yourself.

happier than ever
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