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Heather Sweeney Headshot

Divorce, Redemption and My 20th High School Reunion

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Since my divorce I've become accustomed to doing a lot of things solo. I've been my own date to dinner, to movies, to gatherings with friends. At first I felt awkward ambling about the earth without a partner, but in time I realized that I enjoyed my own company.

But I wasn't quite sure I could pull off walking into my 20th high school reunion by myself. I didn't think I could face my former classmates and their spouses and explain that I was alone not because my husband wasn't able to attend but because I didn't have a husband.

I wanted to attend my 10-year reunion, but the timing was off. My son was only a few months old, and my husband was days away from departing for his first deployment to Iraq. We were trying to spend our last days together preparing both practically and emotionally, and we couldn't spare two days for driving and two days for partying. I also wasn't exactly in a celebratory mindset. So when classmates emailed to ask if I would be joining them, I politely declined and promised to make an appearance at the next one.

When reunion chatter started in my alumni Facebook group a few months ago, my first instinct was to think of a good excuse to decline. I couldn't get time off from work. I couldn't swing the cost of plane tickets for me and my kids. I had broken both arms and had casts up to my shoulders. Any excuse other than I just got divorced and I felt like a failure.

I can't stand to fail at anything. My desire to succeed made me a good athlete. It helps me excel at my job. And it's probably why I tried so hard to fix a marriage I knew was broken.

But I couldn't fix my marriage. My marriage failed. And I didn't know how I could go to this reunion and admit failure in such a huge area of my life to such a huge group of people.

I was still concocting excuses when a friend made me realize that I wasn't a failure and had every reason to proudly go to the reunion.

"People will react to how you act," he said. "If you go into it with the attitude that your life is worse because of the divorce, then people will react accordingly. If you go as the confident, strong woman who changed her life for the better, then you'll be the furthest thing from a failure."

As he reminded me of all the wonderful things I've created, including my children, my career and my ability to run a marathon, I knew I'd be going to that reunion. Shortly after that conversation I booked plane tickets, I started contacting old high school friends, and I bought the perfect dress.

The planning committee did a great job of organizing two days worth of opportunities to reunite. Walking into the first event was easier than I expected. Walking into the second event was exciting. By the time I walked into the third (and main) event wearing that perfect dress, I was downright giddy.

The reunion weekend made me realize I had come full circle since these people had last seen me. In their eyes, not much seemed to have changed. I was told I looked exactly the same, that I was as spunky as ever. Even staying at my parents' house, the same house I lived in during high school, and taking a photo in the same spot where my father took my prom photo made me feel as if nothing had changed.

But everything had changed. Since graduation, I had lived in four different states and one other country. I earned two college degrees. I had two children. I had a 13-year marriage.

During those 20 years, I went through a lot, and somehow I lost that spunky girl. But since my divorce and the personal journey I've taken to rediscover myself, she's back. And that's the woman who showed up at the reunion and had the time of her life reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about the good old days.

Of course social media helped me out too. Thanks to Facebook and my blog, most people already knew I was divorced. No one asked me if I was married. No one asked where my husband was. And while I did discuss bits and pieces of the divorce with a few people, I never once felt less than happy about where I am in life.

My marriage may have failed, but that doesn't make me a failure. And it took a 20-year high school reunion to make me realize that.

I can't wait to see what lesson I'll learn from the 30th.