When my daughter's father, my former husband, moved in with his new girlfriend, I was shocked at all the emotions that came up for me.
Our relationship has been over and done with for many years, and we have a pretty good co-parenting relationship: warm, amiable, supportive. You can imagine my surprise by the fact that there were any feelings, let alone the magnitude with which they showed up. A firm believer of walking my talk, I gave myself permission to ride the emotional roller coaster and see where I ended up.
I vacillated between deep sadness that felt like it came from somewhere beyond our divorce, beyond our story, and even beyond anger and resentment. Something old was triggered in me.
I have wanted a family since childhood, since my own parents' divorce. I love the idea of an immediate intimate community, tribe, nucleus, family. I love the idea of partnership and deep spiritual connection and communion with a significant other. I've imagined leaving this legacy for my children and my children's children, a legacy of family bonds, community, a place to always come home to. And I wanted to give this gift to my daughter, who longed for the same. I could hear it in her voice. She sometimes spoke of family with the same longing I held in my heart. My dream was to break the seemingly generational curse of divorce and separation that had been in my family for 5 decades.
The new relationship between her dad and his significant other triggered all the old hurts I held from childhood, and spawned new fears, as well. What if I was never able to create the family I wanted? What if I never met my soulmate? What if I was going to have to continue to do the single mom thing all alone?
Which led me to the other powerful emotion: anger. Why does he get to live my dream?!! Is this a joke? I put my heart, my soul into my marriage, my family, and this is what I get? Left!!! I wasn't just angry at him - I was pissed at The Universe. What kind of cosmic slap in the face was this!?
It was like riding a roller coaster. One day I was sad, the next I felt longing, the next angry, then frustrated, irritated, and back to sad. Add in a liberal dollop of lonely and you have an idea of what my ride was like.
I have a great support system and as always, I did my work -- journaling, meditating, exercising, getting coaching/counseling when I needed it. And gradually the hills and valleys became less steep, the anger gradually subsided, and tears of loss and grief finally flowed feely. And what I saw when the fog cleared was not what I expected.
It wasn't so much that I hadn't forgiven him for the divorce. That chapter felt closed. What I began to notice was that I only lash out about my divorce when I'm feeling like my life isn't going where I want it. Which is why all this was so astonishing. I have a good life. I like my life, and yet the emotions had to come from somewhere. Something deeper was bugging me.
Then it hit me: of all the people who had let me down in life, no one had let me down more than myself. I hadn't forgiven myself for selling out on my childhood dream of partnership and family.
I still remember when a friend told me I wasn't just grieving the loss of my marriage - I was grieving the loss of my dream. She said I just had to dream new dreams.
I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't dream of something new to replace this long-held dream of family, of legacy, of inspiring the next generation. So I put it away and pretended it wasn't there. I abandoned it. I never talked about it. I never mentioned it and I dared anyone else to mention it. When people asked if I would ever get married again, I was vague and non-committal.
It wasn't about my childhood abandonment issues, or even the abandonment issues associated with my marriage. It was me who had walked out on me. And somehow I knew that was unforgivable.
It's one thing when someone else's leaves - you have no control over that. But how can you rationalize doing the very thing to yourself that you have cursed and hated others for?
I realized that if I wanted to achieve peace - if there was any chance that this dream would come true for me - I was going to have to forgive myself for denying my dream. I knew I would have to find the courage, the vulnerability, to pursue this dream unapologetically in front of the world. I was going to have to declare my longing for family, my belief in intimate community and tribe, and actually open myself to love and intimacy in a way I had not been able to do all this time.
I immediately felt intense fear. First at the prospect of doing it. Then at the prospect of sharing it. Confession is good for others, but for me? Naaah. It's not what I do. And being vulnerable is so, well ... vulnerable. I'm wasn't sure I could be so emotionally naked in front of people.
So I started with just being emotionally naked with myself. I realized that all along, I was doing the best I could, with what I knew at the time. That I never abandoned my dream, I just wasn't ready to take the risks associated with pursuing it. Opening yourself to love is serious business. And I'm an "all-in" kind of woman, which was why the prospect was so scary and risky for me in the first place.
Then I began to feel compassion.
Compassion for the little girl who longed for the stability of a family she never had. Compassion for the teenager who felt torn between two parents she loved dearly. Compassion for the young college student who fell in loved and really wanted him to be The One, for that relationship to be it. Compassion for the 26-year-old who got married with lots of doubts, but hoping this would be the legacy, that this would fix the ache in her heart. Compassion for the 30-year-old who knew something wasn't quite right with her marriage, yet had no clue how to fix it. Compassion for the professional young mother trying to hold it all together for her newborn daughter. Compassion for the single mom who was scared but left the marriage anyway. Compassion for the woman who took action and filed for divorce even though she didn't want to. Compassion for the woman who created a new life, a good life, and yet at night felt an ache she couldn't quite name.
Then forgiveness came for all the ways I believed I'd wronged myself.
I forgave myself for choosing the wrong partner.
I forgave myself for not speaking to the behaviors in the marriage, mine and his.
I forgave myself for leaving.
I forgave myself for not being able to give myself and my daughter the family for which we both long.
I forgave myself for the pain and suffering our families endured watching this unfold.
I forgave myself for putting another divorce on the map of my family lineage.
I forgave myself for not letting him go, us go, it go, sooner.
I forgave myself for abandoning myself, for checking out instead of dealing with this.
I forgave myself for hiding my dream.
I am passionate about relationships and family. I want to dedicate my life to creating an amazing family and to leaving a legacy of love and connection not just for me and mine, but for you and yours - for all.
Family provides support and encouragement; it provides the human connection we all need to thrive. Creating a thriving family puts grounded souls, solid citizens, and loving humans in the world. It gives us a feeling of belonging and lessens the isolation that leads to fear, anger, and violence.
Am I scared? Absolutely! But for the first time in a long time, I feel inspired. And my fear, well it's more like Feeling Excited And Ready. I feel like I'm working towards something meaningful not just for me, but for me and my daughter, for her father and his new family of which I'm a part, and believe it or not, for all of humanity.