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Dori Hartley

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Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up - and She's 52

Posted: 08/16/11 04:46 PM ET

Any woman who has lived through the decade that encompasses years 40 through 50 can attest to the fact that this may just be the hardest time of her life. These are the years when we're still so attached to the physical package, and as we watch ourselves begin to show signs of age -- it simply freaks us out. We're not quite one with the wisdom that's yet to come, though we're certainly a whole lot smarter than we were ten years earlier.

I had one of those fast-paced, awesome New York lives, which was why I put off having a baby until the age of 39. After the birth of my daughter, my husband and I moved into a beautiful home in New Jersey and for three years, our lives seemed to resemble a picture perfect family.

Until... I got breast cancer. And then, everything changed forever. So there I was, at 42 years old, with a toddler princess in tow, a stressed out husband going rapidly into debt, and before I could say, "well doesn't this just suck" -- I sat back and watched my life fall apart bit by bit.

Oh, it wasn't the cancer that did me in -- it was how I perceived my experience of it and what I did to destroy myself way after the disease was thoroughly removed from my body.

You see, this isn't a cancer story. It's a story about mid-life crisis, self-destruction and hopefully -- self-renewal.

Life in the happy, normal New Jersey home receded into the history books, and when the new edition of "My Life" hit the metaphorical shelves, it read like fiction.

"Cancer survivor turns into nihilistic, anti-social cave-dweller with a penchant for online role-playing" and "husband abandons household, leaving sad sack wife to stew in her own juices..." And, of course, "the child," who miraculously floated around like a happy pink bubble on the surface of a turbulent sea of adults, all suffering their mid-life crises.

With the husband never home, I simply convinced myself he left because I must have been too disgusting to look at, and with that as my excuse, I made a firm, unconscious decision to never leave the house. My life would exist online, my friends would be made online and were I to flourish in any way at all, it would have to be online.

I forgot that I was that fast paced New Yorker with a million great friends. I relinquished the idea that I was "the Great Dori Hartley," in fact, everything that I'd worked so hard for all of my life -- I threw away. Because, after my cancer surgery, I felt ugly and I assumed that my husband had to feel the same way. Honestly, now that he and I are divorced, I really don't know what he felt.

All I know is that because cancer hit me at such a crucial juncture in my life, I spent several years denying my own self-worth, rejecting my own beauty.

It was like I was in some kind of midlife coma. The world out there was scary, but as time went by I realized that it wasn't half as terrifying as it was online. Between the scam artists and the fake names, the dramas and the computer addictions -- it started to hit me: I had to get away. This online world -- this enormously negative "thing" was eating up my life.

And suddenly, after all those years -- ten to be exact -- I woke up. It was as if I received some sort of mystical "kiss" of release. Free from the bondage of self-loathing, I looked down at my body and for the first time in so long, I realized that I wasn't ugly at all. I looked up at the sky, and as the rain came down upon my head, I knew that I had finally arrived at the other side.

And the world out there -- it wasn't that scary at all. In fact, it was waiting for me to rediscover it.

I know who gave me that kiss.

It was me. It was the me hidden beneath all those years of self-hatred. It was the beautiful 52-year-old woman that I'd become -- she no longer wished to be denied.

I looked around and I saw that, despite my "coma," I also managed to raise a healthy daughter, go back to college, get a degree and support a household. I cooked, I cleaned, I drove, designed, worked, created, wrote a novel, illustrated --

And at the age of 52, I realized that I was still alive.

 
 
 

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