“I never planned on writing my story, on exposing the deepest parts of my soul and embracing the vulnerability that inherently accompanies such acts. If I’m being honest, vulnerability makes me incredibly uncomfortable, as it always has. As a recovering perfectionist, I would rather the world not know my failures or insecurities. I’m perfectly content with the world assuming they know the version of myself that I portray, while I keep my true self hidden. However, as I’ve learned by walking through the darkest time of my life directly into the most beautiful time of my life, true connection and healing comes only through vulnerability.
For years, I lived in cognitive dissonance, believing that somehow I could save a marriage to someone who systematically and intently tore me down, used gas lighting, devalued me, told me I was unattractive, and reminded me that I did not add value to their life. Coming from a divorced home, I fought against the idea of divorce with vigor, not wanting to be a statistic. For almost seven years, I believed the lies I was being told, believing that if I could only be a little more (insert adjective), then, and only then, would I be worthy of love. My self-esteem and self-worth were lower than I ever imagined possible, and I had resigned myself to those feelings, believing they were the result of my own shortcomings. The damage was done, and those lies said by another became my own beliefs seared into my mind.
I won’t bore you with the details of my divorce or what the circumstances that served as the catalyst to my decision. In truth, the marriage disintegrated years prior to the divorce. After yet another heartbreaking reality I was forced to face, I had a moment of clarity, as the fog finally lifted. Of course, for years I had friends and family trying desperately to help me see things for what they were, and to see him for who he truly was. But when you’re young, afraid of failure, and utterly devoid of self-worth, it’s hard to imagine yourself making that choice to leave everything you’ve ever known and venture into the unknown.
On that fateful day, I realized that I was standing at a fork in the road. I could either finally leave and save myself from a lifetime of certain heartbreak, or again choose to stay. In my particular situation, I knew that if I chose to stay, this scenario in which I found myself would be the reality for the rest of my life, as by staying I was sending him a message that I would continue to re-draw the line in the sand to fit his behavior out of what I thought was love, but was actually mental and emotional abuse. While I was more fearful of the future than I care to admit, I remember leaving the courthouse the day I filed for divorce feeling that I could breathe for the first time in years. It was the feeling of freedom.
The divorce was fairly amicable and finalized quickly. As is the experience of many divorcees, I immediately dove headfirst into creating a new life for myself, with self-worth and self-love as the cornerstones. However, as many can tell you, this is much more easily said than accomplished. Despite how good I felt on some days, the insecurities born out of years of lies and manipulation would often rear their ugly head, a double-edged sword of old wounds opening and the feeling of failure as I allowed old demons to haunt me when I felt I should be stronger. Again, cognitive dissonance, I was writing a new chapter of my life and had every reason to feel elated, yet often felt stuck.
Not long after, by complete chance and incredible luck, I met the most incredible man I’ve ever known. We connected immediately and fell quickly for each other. He taught, and continues to teach me, what it means to be loved unconditionally and has helped me learn how to love myself. For the first time in my life, I felt emotionally safe, which allowed me to be vulnerable with him in a way I had never been with anyone, though vulnerability still felt foreign and terrifying. As things became more serious, I found myself again struggling with old insecurities and old demons, wondering if I was good enough, or could ever be good enough, to deserve to be truly seen and loved.
The thing is, when you live in a chaos and trauma-filled environment for any length of time, the brain changes. A seismic shift occurs in the chemical composition and anatomy of the brain as the pain alters the pathways that help to form your thoughts and emotions, etching ever deeper until these thoughts are the new norm, a new habit formed that harnesses the ability to completely and totally wreck you. There is an abundance of research on this topic and researchers continue to extensively study the mechanisms by which this occurs.
Beautifully, however, the human brain is quite malleable, and we possess the incredible ability to write over these old pathways with new, healthy thoughts. Though, this is a long and tedious road, often marred by setbacks and delays. This process requires unseen levels of perseverance, dedication, and most importantly, grit. It requires you to purposefully take control of your thoughts, determine their validity, and reshape them when needed. I have been walking this road for almost a year and am learning to be patient with the healing process and with myself, a desperate act of self-love I had never afforded myself previously.
For years, I allowed the world to wash over me, resigned to believe the many lies that had been told to me about who I was, who I wasn’t, and who I could never be. On the hard days, I have to remind myself to call these thoughts what they are: lies. There is great freedom in making that identification, by calling it out for what it is. By way of heartbreak, I have been afforded an invaluable opportunity to create a new life for myself and choose who I will become. As I look back on my life, with intentionality, I choose not to feel anger or bitterness, because life, in and of itself, is a journey of learning, and through this I have learned invaluable lessons. My experiences have allowed me to grow and find value in myself that was once thought to be irreparable.
Writing this has left me feeling very exposed and vulnerable, which I instinctually avoid, but I know I am not alone in my experience. So really, this is a love letter to myself and those who have walked this path before me, are walking it now, and will walk it in the future, knowing firsthand how difficult, but freeing, this journey is. So, with that being said, I see you and I know you. There is beauty in vulnerability, and there is beauty within me, and you.”
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