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Me, Rocky Balboa

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"You are worthless and you'll never amount to anything!"

So said my ex when we were still in the throes of unraveling our marriage. And today I want to officially thank him. Little did he know when he said those hurtful, pain-searing words, that he was doing me a favor. In his own, offhanded way, he was encouraging me to fly the coop, and be something more--without him. Turns out, it was just the push I needed. Which is how I became Rocky Balboa.

He said this one night when I was begging him to stay and work it out. Just a month earlier, on the night of our 12th anniversary, he'd told me that he was no longer attracted to me. It felt like a punch in the gut, completely and utterly debilitating, but soon I figured out why I had become persona non grata. There was another woman.

All I could think of was how it was me who put him through school. Now, when he'd finally earned his PhD and was starting his career, he was moving on with a young graduate student who had caught his eye. So I did what only a wife and mother of two small children could do: I tossed aside my dignity and desperately pleaded for a second chance, promising to change and become the woman I thought he wanted me to be. Anything to hold on to our marriage. Anything to keep our family intact. Which is when he delivered his second punch:

You are worthless and you'll never amount to anything.

My initial reaction was to fall apart. Like a masochist, I mulled the words in my head, again and again, drawing them in and picking at the wounds they left on my spirit. Was it true? Was what he was saying my destiny? Not wanting to believe the worst, my survival instincts kicked in and convinced me that, if I could show him he was wrong, he'd surely want me back.

So I became Rocky Balboa, resolved to win the world championship. I would not be that woman who doesn't amount to anything, who believes what she's told and wallows in self-pity and low self-esteem. Instead, I'd be Rocky or, maybe even Meryl Streep, determined to win my first Oscar. I'd be the little engine that could, and I'd be Dumbo, about to take my first flight over the Big Top.

According to my ex, the odds were not in my favor. Yet I wasn't going to be the one to take it on the chin. So my mantra became, "I will prove him wrong, I will prove him wrong."
I had some big hurdles to overcome. Besides, my marriage unraveling, I was pounding the pavement in search of a job. Having stayed home to raise my kids, I had been out of the workforce for nearly two years. I was also coming to terms with my mother's Alzheimer's, and my father's kidney dialysis treatments, which were causing him to lose the will to live.

I will prove him wrong, I kept telling myself. I will prove him wrong, and in my own way, I did. Though it took time, and in that time something happened that surprised me. While I started out to prove him wrong, along the way, I proved myself right. It was a long, harsh road, with hurdles at every turn, but I kept at it. And, with each step forward, I felt exhilarated, as if I'd achieved another milestone. The Rocky Balboa drive was in me, the need to show I could do it. Then one day I realized I'd had. I'd awoken and found my voice.

It took a few years but I finally got the job I wanted, working for a place that thrives on creativity and people who are passionate about their work. Three years after that, I was able to buy a home and turn it into my very own haven. I also raised my children to be thoughtful, caring adults and found time to spend with the people who mean so much to me. And, I returned to my first love, writing. Indeed, I found my bliss.

So if I ever do win the heavyweight championship--or even an Oscar--I'll be sure to express my gratitude to all who have been there for me. And I'll be sure to thank my ex, too. For I'm pretty sure he doesn't know how his words helped shape the person I am today. Oh, and how I became Rocky Balboa. Yeah, that's me. Rocky.