There was a celebration this week. My daughter attended her cross-country team banquet. This was a big deal; a first, because she had never participated in a team sport before. I knew she was really excited about going to the banquet when she asked for a hair appointment! She wanted to look her best. And she did look beautiful! The joy for me, however, was seeing her acknowledged for the effort she put into her running this fall. As any Mom would, I hope it brings her confidence and pride in herself. She started the season with zero running experience. She could barely run a half mile. But she kept at it. I know she was scared and self-conscious in the beginning, worrying about fitting in or being criticized. Soon all of that dissolved; this was a tremendously positive experience for her.
On banquet night I silently celebrated a major accomplishment in my life. My relationship with her Father had dramatically improved over the course of the cross-country season. We were able to sit with each other at this banquet, share a meal, and find pleasant things to talk about, such as travel plans and ideas for Christmas gifts. We’ve come a long way from the days when we couldn’t even be in the same room with each other let alone carry on a conversation. A long way from bitterness and resentment. I wouldn’t say we are buddy-buddy. But we are truly being great parents for our daughter.
So how did we get here? Was it simply the old cliché “time heals all wounds?” No, I don’t think so. I think, at least for me, the wounds were healed because I worked really damn hard at it. After experiencing the worst betrayals of my life several years ago, I finally got to the point where I realized that I had to do the work to come to grips with the emotional wounds. Neglect wasn’t much of a salve.
We’ve all had times when we feel so much pain that we just want to curl up in a ball under a blanket on the couch and stay there forever. TV remote in hand, I can hide from the world and drown my sorrows in a tub of ice cream. I can watch “Pretty Woman” for the 50th time and fantasize about the fairy tale ending. That’s the easy way out, to just stuff the feelings. It’s actually cowardly. I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t want to take one more emotional beating and let it take the spirit out of me.
So to get up and fight is the only alternative. To make up my mind that I will do whatever it takes to not let other people crush my spirit. That’s the first brave step. And to win this battle, you actually have to peel off the armor. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. What does this mean? Why is vulnerability such a big theme of mine? Because putting up the walls, and pretending that there is no problem, and living in denial about how you feel and what’s really stealing your life out from under you is no way to live. You are going to have to take down the walls, stop pretending, admit the problems, and start living fully. That’s a scary place to go. Because it leaves you bare. It leaves room for all the things we fear – judgment, criticism, and the potential to be hurt again. But it’s the most courageous thing you can do to bring about change in your life.
Step One: admit my own failures.
I had to admit I had failed in my relationships. That’s not to say that others hadn’t failed me. They had. But I made bad choices too. I had to stop blaming others for my problems and accept responsibility. At the very least, I’m responsible for how I choose to respond to other people’s behavior.
Step Two: practice forgiveness.
I also had to choose to forgive. I knew that I needed to resolve my feelings of hurt and resentment because I had to continue to deal with these people on a day to day basis. As much as I wished it could be so, they were not going to be out of my life. I read a book by Edward M. Hallowell, MD titled “Dare to Forgive” in which he outlines the process of forgiveness. I learned that forgiveness is for me, not the other persons. It’s about letting go of resentments. It’s not about forgetting what someone has done. And it’s certainly not about letting them do it again. It’s about moving on.
It was in this book that I found advice that really resonated with me and that applied so well to my situation at the time. Hallowell explains that when a relationship ends, it’s an opportunity to get to work on yourself. He recommends strengthening the healthy connections you already have with friends and family, groups you care about, and activities you like. He also suggests to “Work on your connection with your physical body; try to get yourself to a place where you feel good about how you look. Take as a call to action the feelings that were exposed in you. Make yourself a stronger woman.”
The day I read that, it became my motto: Make yourself a stronger woman. I wrote it on a note and stuck it to my desk at work, where I read it every day.
Step three: Build my self-esteem.
This was a tremendous thing to find in a book about forgiveness, because it made me realize that I needed to make myself a top priority, to take the focus off of the people who hurt me, and center my intentions on making myself a better person. Letting go of resentment and moving on is a part of that. But so is working on confidence and self-esteem. And my confidence grew each time I went for a run or a bike ride, or made it through a boot camp class. It was during this period that I kayaked for the first time, and I was so proud of that because my ex-husband had laughed at me when I said I wanted to kayak. Turns out I was absolutely strong enough to paddle, and do anything else I wanted to do.
Step four: let go of what doesn’t serve me.
There was still another piece of the healing process that I needed to focus on. It had to do with letting go of things that didn’t serve me anymore. For me, this included belongings that I had to give up and goals that needed to change. Facing divorce meant letting go of my home and other belongings that I valued. I spent many years ignoring the inevitability of my divorce, mainly because I didn’t feel I should have to give up “stuff” that I was attached to. How silly is that. The stuff doesn’t matter. But it took me a very long time to accept that. I didn’t need a house, or property, or a garden, or furniture, or just about any other object we owned at the time.
I am still in the process of re-evaluating my goals and adopting new plans, hopes, dreams, and desires. These are mine to fulfill; I don’t need to negotiate them with anyone else. But I can tell you that there is far less physical stuff on that list. Own a home? Nope. Have awesome experiences? Help my daughter grow into a confident, smart, beautiful woman? Do what I can to make the world a better place? YES, YES, AND YES!
Did time heal the wounds? No, a lot of brave steps on the vulnerable path did.
© Vulnerable Path, 2014