A decade ago, I thought I had it all: a loving husband, gorgeous children, a thriving small business and a healthy savings account.
But in the blink of an eye, my life was turned upside down.
After my son fell ill, I transferred control of my business and finances to my husband. This trust proved costly. I soon discovered that my husband was not being honest about our financial position. It came to light that he had multiple debts to a seemingly infinite list of lenders, and on this list were members of my family. As soon as I discovered his debts, he disappeared never to be seen again.
The years that followed can only be described as an uphill battle. I was forced to go bankrupt and lost my award winning business, my house and my car. I had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet for my kids. I also had to accept that the "perfect life" I had built with my husband was founded on lies.
It felt like a natural progression to let myself slip into a negative mindset. To give up on love, to become bitter and to let my present circumstances ruin the rest of my life. That was, until I made the decision to make the rest of my life the best of my life.
This is how my toxic divorce made me a happier person today.
1) I released total dependence on money for a sense of success.
In a world ruled by technology and the latest trends, we tend to measure success on the stuff that we can or can't afford.
Let me tell you - there's nothing quite like losing "everything" to help you see everything that actually remains. Even when I had no money to my name, my family and I still had our health, our sense of self, and our sense of humour to keen us sane! We still had a warm bed to crawl into at night. Whether I felt like laughing or crying, I was still supported by loved ones who were amazing to me.
This quickly taught me that success doesn't hinge on the number in our bank account. It is about connecting with others and sharing everyday life. Yes - financial stability makes life a lot more comfortable. But when it comes to personal fulfilment, I'd pick connection with loved ones over money every time.
2) I learned to value small gestures of kindness...they often mean the most.
One of the most heart-warming moments that I remember after my divorce was when a mum from school appeared on my doorstep with a freshly cooked chicken and spinach casserole in one hand, and a mini beef casserole for my fussy-eater son in the other.
It was a small gesture. But at a time when I was inundated with big offers of help that I didn't want to accept, those two casseroles spoke volumes.
To me, it symbolised how the small ways of expressing our condolences, our love and our thoughts are often the most significant. It said I know you, I support you, and you will get through this.
Now, I try to always make my actions as meaningful as this gesture. Because I know that the smallest token of gratitude or the simplest of words are often the ones with the greatest impact.
3) I understood what it meant to live without reserve.
Everyone has a story. Most of us have aspects of our past that we aren't particularly proud of. The past ten years have taught me that we can never know what lies beneath the surface of someone. In the here and now, none of it matters anyway.
It's not about the path we have walked or the mistakes we have made. Instead, what inspires me most in people are the ways in which they stride through adversity to be the best versions of themselves in spite of their story. The way that they live honestly, openly and with integrity.
We all carry regrets. I chose to live on in spite of mine.
4) I know how to appreciate the love in my life.
They say you don't know what you've got until it's gone. But for me, it reads more along the lines of you don't know what you are missing until you find it.
I thought that I had the perfect relationship with my ex-husband. Looking back, I realise that it was anything but. This realisation is partly due to the life changing events that my marriage sparked. But it's also thanks to the amazing person who I call my husband now. My toxic divorce taught me just how valuable real love and true happiness is when you find it. I am thankful every day that I have met someone to share my life with again. Someone whom I truly respect, and who does that same for me in return.
If there is one thing that I will never take for granted again, it's the person in my life who makes me smile the most.
Above all else, my toxic divorce helped me to learn what love really means - and to be thankful every day that I found it.
Julie Rainbow - Director Clarity Road www.clarityroad.com.au