It’s been almost three years since my ex-husband and I separated. I don’t write much about our marriage, or what we are like now, because he asked me not to and because I respect the delicate privacy of our history. But I also strive to put down what’s real, to unearth the truest narrative I can because I think that’s how we come to understand each other, and life. Sometimes not writing about it feels like a barrier. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a tough, but necessary balance to strike, and I’m learning. I think I can write about this, though. I think this is less about me or him or us and more about the way love shows up in our lives.
Yesterday was shit. I was stuck. Heavy, heavy stuck. I had no muscle memory of anything good or light. I was sure I never felt much joy to begin with. Any past sweetness felt very far away.
When I get like that I am wholly un-loveable and too needy. Nobody will ever want me again. I was feeling rejected by one person and so I felt all the rejections of a lifetime. I heard all the men who've ever said, “No,” and “No, thanks,” and “You’re the most wonderful, but I cannot.” They were the only voices I could hear.
All day the pain wouldn't budge. Not even an inch. No amount of yoga, prayer, running, TV, hot water, wise words from friends, ice cream, writing, or logic was making a dent. I thought about drinking and wished it still worked. I dragged myself to a meeting and rubbed my eyes the whole way through. I tried to read the best bits of my go-to books but couldn't focus. I waved a white flag on Instagram.
I railed on myself for spending the day I took off from work in this headspace.
But nothing was moving, except the clock. I was reminded by Momastery that pain is not a mistake.
“Pain is not a sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn or that you’re doing life wrong. It’s not a signal that you need a different life or partner or body or home or personality. Pain is not a hot potato to pass on to the next person or generation. Pain is not a mistake to fix. Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming.”
Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming.
So when I woke up this morning, I hit my knees first and said, show me in a way I can understand. I sat down and wrote. Pen to paper, freeform, three pages, without editing myself.
Afterward, I was drawn to pull out a stack of post-its. I started to write something about myself on each one. Something I’ve accomplished. A way I’ve changed (one of the recurring thoughts yesterday was that I cannot change, that I haven’t, that I don’t know how or have the capacity to). A shift in perception. A marker of growth. On each square I wrote something real and true about me in the most simple words possible.
They said things like:
YOU CAN DO SMART THINGS WITH YOUR BRAIN.
YOU KEEP YOUR HEART OPEN.
YOU HAVE RUN MARATHONS.
A lot of the notes are specific and new to my life in sobriety (as Holly reminded me yesterday, what further proof do I need that I can change?):
YOU ARE NO LONGER CAUGHT IN AN INFINITE LOOP.
YOU CAN HANDLE CRITICISM.
YOU CAN SEPARATE OTHER PEOPLE'S OPINIONS OF YOU FROM YOUR OWN.
YOU CAN READ BEDTIME STORIES.
YOU CAN OPEN ALL YOUR MAIL.
YOU CAN TELL THE TRUTH.
And some were just regular, but profound, reminders of where I am:
YOU LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL PLACE.
YOU ARE COMFORTABLE IN YOUR BODY (This was not always true.)
YOU CAN SPEAK IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.
YOU ARE TEACHABLE.
In the end, it looked like this:
The post-it that’s crumpled up didn’t seem to fit with all the others. I folded it up just after writing it, unclear where it came from, or how it belonged.
It has one word on it: my ex-husband’s name.
I let it sit there all day with the others – my weird little grid of affirmations, or whatever we want to call them – on my kitchen countertop. I went through my day. Ran six miles. Did laundry. Sat in front of the coffee shop and watched people walk their dogs. Opened every piece of mail I have. Called the IRS.
I thought about the black, dark, stuck place I was in yesterday. How I'd bound such deep, existential pain to one particular person, one rejection I was feeling, and that it just didn’t add up. I wondered what I was getting at with all those squares of paper?
I thought about one of my favorite quotes from Cheryl Strayed, “Don't surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn't true anymore.”
I think I had to write out all the other pieces of paper - all 31 of them - to get to the one I crumpled up.
I think Glennon was right in that I just had to let pain do its job. If I could still, it would show me the way home.
The crumpled up note has my ex-husband’s name on it: four letters that still spell out a large part of my heart, even though we have moved on. They spell out mercy and grace and finding a way through our individual shortcomings to build a peaceful space for our daughter. They signify so many apologies I've yet to make, so many regrets about the way I handled things before I knew a better way to handle things.
The note has his name on it, but when I hold it in my hand and close my eyes, I see these words: YOU ARE ALREADY FORGIVEN.