Sunday, September 8, 2013

Leave It All Behind

A recent essay I submitted to a writing contest....enjoy!  It is long but worth the read:

Today, September 2, 2013, I made the courageous decision to leave beind old, unhealed pain and truly begin my life anew after the end of a 22-year marriage.

I had been wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt for so long...ever since I had discovered my ex-husband’s homosexual affairs after confronting him about suspicious text messages on his phone on Easter Sunday, April 2010.

I thought the divorce and the fact that my ex-husband was gay was my fault.  When the truth of his actions were finally revealed, I had a sense of overwhelming helplessness and abandonment.  I was literally emotionally paralyzed.  

I thought, because of years of his untruthful statements about me,  that I could not do anything right.  I thought I was not attractive...sexual or otherwise.  I thought I didn’t deserve or couldn’t have lasting love.

So I took the easy way out...the chicken way out.  For months after our split I told teenage children included...that the romantic part of my life was over….that I would never love again.  It was if I had been riding a merry-go-round and refusing to go for the brass ring...the potential to be happy.

After all, I had had over 14 surgeries for a breast cancer lumpectomy and a variety of other health issues along with chemotherapy and radiation, depression, embarrassing colon issues and suicidal thoughts.

All of the medical problems came with a host of side-effects, including some hearing loss.    I thought, “Who would want a woman with scars all over her body and ½ a breast who can’t hear well who has to run to the bathroom all the time?  Not to mention a woman who couldn’t keep her husband satisfied?”

I resented that I was all alone, and my ex-husband had happily moved onto new relationships.  Running into him and one of his dates only added to my insecurity.  

My youngest daughter and I went to a local restaurant for brunch after church one day, and, to my absolute surprise, we saw my ex-husband with a man.  Fortunately, we were seated far away from each other with a retaining wall separating us.  

I sat in shock for a few moments after we were seated, placed our order and then went to the restroom to cry.  I came out and put on a brave face for my daughter, who didn't really understand what was going on.  I encouraged her to go say hello to her dad, and then I basically ignored that he was there.  He later acknowledged to me that he was with someone of romantic interest and commented that I was welcome to talk to him in public if I saw him with someone.  When he said that I was so dumbfounded that I said nothing.

After that incident I was even more convinced I would forever be alone, while my ex-husband went on with his love life.

And then a wonderful man, rocked my world of safe, although false, insecure assumptions about myself, my life and my future.

We began dating after my divorce was final.  I was not looking for a serious relationship and neither was he...but it became very obvious after our third or fourth date, that things were taking a surprisingly serious turn.

He told me I was beautiful on our first date….beautiful in that I have a fun personality, am smart and witty and brightened his day.  I was stunned.  I did not think of myself in those terms at all.

We attended church together, and sermon after sermon had a message that validated me.  But I still refused to believe the truths about myself.  

My pastor gave a particularly strong message on healing from hurts and moving on from them.  

I will never forget his words:  “Are you going to remember the hurt or the Healer?”  But I was too afraid to come out of my cocoon of safe, but wrong, assumptions about myself.  I chose to dwell on the hurts and not God’s healing, but at the same time began to pray for healing for my damaged emotions and damaged self-image.

My awakening to my own value came in a watershed moment after reading a book about the homosexual coming-out crisis and how it affects the straight spouse.  

Some things in the book I did not agree with, but it had a powerful, stunning message just the same….the message that it was not all my fault that our marriage ended, and that it was not my fault that I couldn’t make my husband happy.

I was amazed to finally realize the truth that the special man in my life had been telling me for weeks...that neither or I any woman could have made my ex-husband happy.  I could not compete with another man...and that fact made me no less a woman.

The realization left me breathless, a bit angry with myself for lying to myself for so long and excited about the future all at once. My breath came in quick gasps, and my heart just pounded.

Once I realized I could shake free of the past, I felt like a newborn doe...shaky on my feet, but curious about this new-found freedom outside my womb of denial

I went from wondering “Why in the world any man would love me?” to realizing “Why wouldn’t a man love me?”

I began to realize my new friend was right in reminding me “Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  He told me that once after he had asked me how I had managed to cope with moving on past cancer.

I explained to him that I had, at one time, plagued myself with wondering how I had gotten cancer.  Was it in the food I ate?  The water I drank?  The old farm land I grew up on?  Would it come back?  If? When?  How?  

Two years afterward my diagnosis I decided I did not beat cancer to only live with one foot in the grave of fear.  So I quit asking myself those questions and bogging myself down with “what ifs.” I chose to live a life not plagued by fear.

This new man in my life quietly listened and said, “Then you have to do the same with the break up of your marriage, your husband’s wrong doings and the divorce.”

But the habit of self-blame was hard to shake off as my divorce from my gay ex-husband had just finalized in late May of this year.  The divorce proceedings had dragged on over the course of two years as I had some medical emergencies that required I stay on my ex-husband’s health insurance. The amount of energy, wisdom and judgement that  it took to resolve everything was overwhelming

But after I read the book I came to realize other truths about myself.

I thought I was courageous to move out before I had full-time employment.  I thought I was courageous networking, looking for work and finding a full-time job with benefits after years of being a stay-at-home mom working only in part-time seasonal jobs.

I thought I was courageous for managing the bills, car repairs, cable tv and computer problems...things I had entrusted to my ex-husband for over 20 years.

I thought I was courageous for getting the necessary psychiatric help, counseling and medication for my depression.  I thought I was courageous for willingly asking our school system for financial assistance for my children’s school books and fees.  

I thought I was courageous for reaching out to social service agencies and my church to pay bills.  I thought I was courageous for applying for financial assistance from hospitals and health foundations and pharmaceutical companies for help in claiming financial hardship to pay medical bills and receive free medication.

Now I know those were not brave actions...they were the wise actions of a good, strong woman providing for herself and her children.

The true courageous action was deciding today that I would no longer wallow in self-pity and negative self-thinking...that I would believe in my God-given self-worth.

So here is to the first day of the rest of my grabbing the brass ring of happiness.  And in so doing I have realized that I have the enviable opportunity to re-write the next chapters of my life...of course, the chapters are not going where I expected them...but that is the joy in this new journey.

It is pointless to think any more about the falsehoods I had believed about myself for so is time to begin a new stop focusing on the hurts and focus on God’s healing.  It is simply self-defeating to spend my time and energy on a what I thought was a storybook marriage that is now over.  It is time to grab the brass ring.

As modern American writer Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  

I am eagerly looking forward to what is ahead and God's new plans for my last!