“Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Five years ago, it seemed I had it all. By most standards, I did.
My life was a quintessential picture of the American dream. I lived with my faithful husband in our large suburban home—complete with picket fence. Our children were thriving. We had nice cars, shiny new stainless steel appliances, and all the trappings of what most people would consider a successful life.
We worked damn hard for that picture postcard life. We came from nothing—just two kids from the farms of rural Michigan. We left our hometown at the tender age of 21 with two babies in tow and a U-haul truck full of hand-me-down furniture.
We had something to prove—to ourselves, the world, and everyone who told us we wouldn’t make it. The odds were stacked against us from the start, but we were determined to take life’s lemons and make the prettiest chiffon pie you’ve ever seen.
We chased dollars around the country, always looking for greener pastures. He focused on his career. I took care of things at home. We bought houses. We sold houses. We traveled some. We spent 13 years looking for that next thing: the accomplishment, the bank balance, the particular birthday for our children upon which parenting would magically become easier.
When life got tough, we made promises and plans to look forward to. Things to take the focus off the present struggles we were facing. Things we would surely do together when the children were grown. Places we would visit, or even move to one day—to continue our search for home and happiness.
Those dreams for our future together were the most painful loss when our marriage ended.
The life I clung to so desperately was built on a faulty foundation. When it crumbled, the grief I suffered was almost unbearable. I didn’t just lose my husband. I lost my identity. I lost the only family I had ever felt a part of. I lost my big suburban home—and all the material things we had worked so hard accumulating to fill it. I lost all the things I used to define myself, and my station in life.
I spent a couple of years feeling utterly lost in the world.
Who was I without the husband and the grand façade we built together? Who was I, if not a wife and stay at home mother? Who was I apart from the circumstances and material things I had built my identity around? Who was I at my core?
It would take nearly four years for me to know the basic answers to these questions—and I’m still learning.
As I felt my way through my new life, I realized that the big house and all the stuff inside it didn’t mean anything to me. That was the house he wanted. Everything about that house screamed his name. I barely existed in that house. I was just a shadow there.
I realized how unhealthy our relationship had been for me. I saw that I had stayed for all the wrong reasons. I saw all the ways I lied to myself, all the ways I punished myself, all the ways I lost myself there. I felt like I had failed in every way possible. I felt like I had lost everything. I was sad. I was angry with myself. And for a while, I was pretty hopeless about my future.
It took a while for me to see that I had gained much more than I lost when our marriage fell apart. I got to start over in a way that felt authentic and right for me. I got to shed years and layers of burdens I wore while living to please others. I got to find out who I was in my soul, what makes me happy, and what I actually wanted out of this life.
As it turns out, I was never really looking for the things I lost.
I was looking for what they symbolized to me.
The husband, the house, the whole package felt like safety. It was my security blanket. I needed it, because on some level I didn’t believe that I was capable of taking care of myself without it. I enveloped myself in that life, dishonest as it was, and let it smother me until I was near death.
When I finally grew courageous enough to throw off that heavy blanket and breathe again, I began to use this affirmation: “Everything I once perceived as lost is now returning to me.” These powerful words reminded me time and again not to look back on those years in regret. But, instead to fix my eyes upon what was actually important to me.
I never wanted the dysfunctional relationship hidden behind material things. I wanted safety, security, and love. I wanted a home, a family, the very thing I felt I’d never had before. I wanted these things, and also space to be myself. A partner who wouldn’t dream of changing me. A purpose in life to make my soul sing.
I wanted something very different than the things I lost when I walked away from my marriage. I wanted what they represented to me, in a way that didn’t bring me harm. I wanted them in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in that relationship. I wanted something I could only find by walking away from that life, as painful as that was, and starting over with a deeper understanding of who I am.
The life I was mourning was little more than the warm up. And truly, I needed the lessons I learned while lost and wandering through those dark days to fully embrace the woman I am today.
I know that everything happens for a reason, and no matter how difficult our struggles, we are always learning, growing, and evolving. Each day brings me a little closer to realizing my potential and making my dreams come true. Each day, I feel a little more safe and secure, a little more loved and supported.
Truly, I know that it is safe to trust the process of life.
It is safe for me to move forward, knowing that everything I thought I had lost is here with me in new, wonderful packages. The more I let go of my regrets and feelings of failure, the more open I am to receiving life’s gifts as they come to me. In gratitude, I stretch open my arms to each new possibility.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Image: Monique Prater/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman