It was a few weeks ago when my ex-husband popped up in a conversation with my sister. I don't even remember why, I just know that as I talked about him, I heard things coming out of my pie-hole that were unfamiliar and yet completely authentic. "I don't know if he's happy," I said, "but I hope he is."
To be honest, I've said the words before. Many, many times. The difference this time was that I meant them.
It was years ago - eight, in fact - during the holiday season when I began to notice things falling apart. Just in time for Christmas, I lost my job, and if I hadn't been consumed by that I probably would have realized before I lost the man that I was losing him. Loss was the theme that year, I suppose, and by February his heart gave up on mine; by July, he was well and truly gone. It would take a few years for the legalities to come together, but for me July was when it ended.
He moved on quickly. I took a bit more time.
I'm still taking time, in fact.
The most remarkable thing that came out of the tragedy that was the end of my marriage is the fact that I fell head over heels in love with someone I never expected to feel this way about. Someone without whom I truly could not live; it just so happens, I feel deeply and irrevocably in love with myself.
It's a journey that took about 41 years just to begin. Shortly before my 41st birthday, I walked into a gym, signed up, and began the physical transformation that healed my literal heart. At the time I am sure I was at my most unhealthy. I didn't go to the doc, because I didn't want to know, but I'm relatively certain my heart was actually broken. Walking up a flight of stairs terrified me, because my pulse went bananas. So what did I do? I rented a third-floor walkup. I created a home for myself. I built something, just for me.
And it all started with my heart. I began to eat better, and do physical things. I started sleeping - something that came all too rarely during the early stages of our breakup. I started smiling. I started making new friends, and really connecting with people in a way I hadn't allowed myself to do when I was married. It was as if I put on this suit of "wife armor," and there just wasn't room for anyone to get inside. As the armor wore down, my body began to change, too.
And I began to take risks. I allowed myself to do things I was pretty sure I'd suck at, because heck, I'd already failed at marriage. How bad could anything be at this point? It wasn't a self-flaggelation thing; it was honestly the idea that maybe I wouldn't fail, and that made it worth the risk.
Risk is now one of my fondest friends.
In the time since my marriage ended, I have created something out of the ashes. This life is totally different from the one I had when I was with him. Because as my heart healed, it also became more open. And while there is no "relationship" in my life or on my horizon, I have less fear of dying alone now than I did when I was married.
I have learned that "alone" is much more a state of mind than a state of being.
So to those who have been constant through all of this, I have to say "thank you." You caught me on my freefall. You made it safe for me to blow up my life and try again. And again. And again. Made up of both family and friends, you all found a way to cushion the blows and point me toward something greater. You knew what I was capable of, and you wouldn't let me settle for anything less. I owe you my life.
To those I met during the toughest times, I have to say "thank you." You saw something in a wounded girl that made you believe I wouldn't always be that way. You urged me forward. You trusted my instincts; you dared me to suck, knowing that I had at least a 50/50 shot at not. You thought I was worth it, and you let me prove you right.
And to an incredible group of folks who re-found me during this time, you guessed it - I have to say "thank you." You didn't know me married; you rarely if ever saw that version of me, which made you uniquely able to hold up a different mirror. You offered me a glimpse into my past, at an incarnation of myself who had long since been forgotten, and you assured me that I could reach back, grab onto the best parts of her, and bring them forward, into this new life.
Every one of you made my heart strong, and you helped to grow into someone I could love.
None of this is to say that the journey is over; no, not by any means. I suspect that over time, there will be more risks, more challenges, more reasons to scare the living crap out of myself. It seems every time I prove to myself what I'm capable of, another idea bubbles up on the horizon. We are well and truly in a constant state of transformation, and we can become so much more than we ever imagined if we just allow it to happen. And work hard at it.
Not just the physical, either. Sure, it's "easy" to train for a race, because you have a training plan. Follow the plan, and unless everything falls apart on race day, you'll be able to finish. It's harder to train for life, though. To really do that, you have to show up. You have to follow through on all the things you've been putting off for some ambiguous "someday."
You have to do it, whatever your "it" is. Reach. Grow. Then reach again. And just see how much you learn to love yourself in the process.