This post was inspired by a less eloquent telling at a recent Salt City Story Slam. Because it felt good to say the words out loud to a group of strangers, I thought it might be even more healing to get it out there on the internet where I really can’t hide from it anymore. So here goes…
When I was 27, I was married. I had promised myself that when I were to ever get married, I would only do it once. The problem was, I didn’t really have a plethora of healthy marriages to model my own after, and by the time I was 29, I was heading for divorce. That’s it. That’s the “d” word. I almost never talk about it and I cringe when other people talk about it (my first marriage or my divorce). I recently saw a photo of myself at my wedding, and the amount of shame that boiled up inside of me was overwhelming. I instantly looked away and avoided eye contact with the person in the photo. At that moment, I realized that I needed to dig in, figure this shit out, and move on because that was in the past, and I’ve got a pretty awesome future to look forward to.
So where was all this shame coming from? The shame came from feeling like a giant failure. I felt humiliated that I had wasted so much time and money and emotional energy from my friends and family. I felt embarrassed as all my other friends were getting married and seemed to have happy, healthy relationships while mine was suffering and dying. I was regretful that my failed marriage had turned into a statistic (“40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce”). I felt like “damaged goods” and I promised myself that I would never get married again.
And then I realized that’s all a bunch of bullshit.
I learned a lot from my marriage and I learned a lot from my divorce. I learned a lot about kindness and forgiveness and healing. I learned a lot about communication and what I wanted in a future partner. I learned that people in your life who care about you will still care about you when you fail. And I learned how to ask for help.
You know what else I learned? That no one really cares, which is gigantically and enormously comforting. Most people were either A) too busy with their own problems to give a shit about mine or B) also divorced yet seemed to feel none of the burning embarrassment that I felt about my own. So if no one else cared, why did I?
And then, I let go of it. I say that so casually like I did it overnight, but it honestly took many years to move on. The honest truth is that I cannot continue to beat myself up for mistakes that I’ve made in the past, and I can only acknowledge them and move forward. I can no longer feel guilty for leaving a relationship that was not healthy for anyone, and I can only be thankful for the opportunity to learn and to be a better partner in the future. It’s just a part of my story now. There are a whole lot of parts to my story that make me who I am, and honestly, the divorce is only a tiny one.
I guess the point is, if you’re in this boat too, you should know that it’s actually totally OK to be proud of yourself because you refused to share your life with someone who didn’t share your values. It’s OK to be proud of yourself for knowing your worth and putting your needs first. When you feel the emotions flooding back, throw out the shame and remind yourself that you are not the story that you have been telling yourself. Do the work to become clearer on who you are, and learn to see the world from a place of self-compassion. There’s nothing shameful about that.