“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. “ ~Brené Brown
He just left our home.
After eighteen years together, fifteen of them being married, he left as we had planned, as we had gently and lovingly discussed.
We are on a break, a trial separation. What you hear about separation and divorce is all so achingly true. It feels like a death, a chasm where all the worst feelings imaginable pile in on you, where you can’t quite breathe right.
The pain is visceral—like someone sliced right through your core, the heartache deep enough to make the bones ache, the weariness that makes your head feel heavy and weighted, the primal twists in your gut that cannot be fully appreciated until they are forced upon you unexpectedly.
My eyes are completely dried out and sore, begging for a reprieve from the ocean of tears.
I did not see this coming. I wasn’t blindsided completely, as there have been whispers and ghosts of unpleasant truths that had been squashed down for years: all those inner, intimate workings of a marriage that didn’t always flow smoothly, undetectable to the outside world. The ebbs and flows, the dark thoughts that sprout up on a sleepless night, a human experience in all its shared, bumpy glory.
Through all that, there was purity and goodness, what makes a marriage so rewarding and rich: a deeply rooted friendship, strong as anything I have ever felt with someone in my life. I was connected, heard, understood.
I had a witness to my life’s journey in all its madness, monotony, and triumph. My person. My love. The person who got it without having to say a word. That steady presence even when we were physically apart. I felt secure and safe, and my feet were firmly planted on the ground.
So much time, so much history, so much togetherness feels like it has been wiped out in the span of a few months. It disappeared up in smoke with only the ashes to remain. I am untethered, rudderless, a sail desperately trying to right itself in the tempest.
There is no faultfinding, no hatred, just a crushing sadness with a generous dose of regret. Regret for all the times we didn’t tune into each other or communicate when things urgently needed to be said and handled with proper care. Care that would heal wounds instead of allowing them to fester.
Regret for retreating into our respective corners and hiding, survival skills carried over from tumultuous childhoods. We landed in the gray area of life where feelings subtly shift over time and don’t course correct in healthy ways.
That dreaded place where human emotions get murky, cloudy, and raw, allowing vulnerability and disconnect to cause you to do things you never thought you would. In turn, you make futile efforts for control when there is none. You don’t want to let go but you must. Your hands are too raw and bloody from the struggle to hang on for dear life. I know what it means to surrender now.
It is gone. I am unsure it will ever be back. If it comes back, I hope it is stronger and more lovingly powerful than before, impenetrable from any slings and arrows that may try to dent and poison it. We will nourish and nurture it to make it right, whole, solid—not let it wither away so easily on the vine.
I won’t mind the battle scars, as they will serve to remind me of what we can endure, how we cope, how we survive, and what loss really feels like in your soul. It will remind me to cherish the feeling of home, the safe haven of togetherness. We will mourn the death of our old marriage and pave a path for a new one that is healing, bright, and hopeful, permanently altered for the better.
Right now, I am alone, terrified, vulnerable, standing on the edge of an abyss. All I have is myself, and I have to believe that I am enough. My mantra is “I will get through this,” and I repeat it often. It comforts me sometimes.
I know there are things I didn’t want to acknowledge about myself: I became complacent, didn’t take full advantage of my days of freedom, chose the easy way out on many occasions, ignored my creative leanings, and became more dependent than I would ever care to admit.
I numbed myself with monotony, allowing seemingly benign things from the past to insidiously take root and work their way to the surface, infecting everything in its path.
Now it is all there, right in front of me, not so much taunting me but in my face, reminding me I have some work to do. Life lessons that need to be understood and imbibed to my core so I don’t keep repeating them. Not to put myself in such a place of insecurity ever again. I must own all of this, my part. Digest it painfully and slowly but knowing it will fortify me in the future.
Where will I be in six months, a year? How will this unfold? Will I make hugely gratifying changes that smooth everything over? Will he? Will I take this time to get back to myself? Will I be all too human and fail miserably? Will I numb myself yet again to all of this? Maybe. Maybe not. It is unknowable right now.
I know what I will be doing every day until the answers come. And they will come whether I like them or not. I will get up each morning. I will take care of my body and mind. I will shower, wash my hair, put on makeup, and get dressed.
I will face the days, whether they feel short and uneventful or impossibly long, full of loneliness, despair, and isolation. I will cry until I feel depleted and then cry again. I will not sleep well. My stomach will feel like someone is gripping it tightly in their fist.
But I will take long walks, and inhale clean, fresh air. I will try to eat well, be kind to myself, stay open, soft, and not wear bitterness like a mask or feel my chest constrict with impotent rage. I will remember that it is okay to be afraid. I will reach out to people when I need to and be alone when I need to.
I will try to laugh every day and remember all the good things I have. I will drink red wine and dance spontaneously to remind myself I am alive in this body. I will not give up on myself, though I will want to. I will not break even though I am fragile as fine china. I will throw many balls in the air and see if one lands on a treasured feeling of possibility.
I will let this exquisite pain be my greatest teacher. I will give it time—that magical elixir that taunts and teases on its own schedule. I will become the woman I know I am deep inside, even though she got lost along the way—the woman of my dreams, who is capable and strong. It has been eighteen years of building one life, and now I will begin building a new one.
The most important thing I have learned through this period of profound change is that you need to show up for yourself—always. To be your own champion and best friend. To know with absolute certainty that you are the only person you can count on in order to move forward and build the life of your dreams, with or without someone else. And knowing that is worth everything.
About Rachel McNamara
Rachel McNamara is a Registered Nurse and Certified Health Coach with a passion for all things related to wellness, health and fitness. She just purchased her first essential oil diffuser and is beyond excited. She is also obsessed with (in no particular order) skincare, Bravo TV, red wine and podcasts. Find her on Instagram at@rachelmcnamara8053 rmmhealth.net.
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