01/20/2015 02:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How I Became a Shadow of Myself

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Recently, several people have asked what happened in my marriage, why I got divorced. People ask me this like they're asking me why I chose that particular Keurig model or why I no longer use Milton as my hairstylist. There is no easy, pat answer to this, and it never occurred to me to create an elevator pitch to this question. Because there are so many nuances and reasons why and how, that some moments I'm not entirely sure after all these years if I know all the reasons. The answer shifts through time and reflection and understanding and compassion and growth.

I understand people ask the question hoping for a quick answer that assigns blame. It's more convenient to wrap your understanding around a bad guy. I think some people also want to know concrete reasons why, so that they can avoid making those mistakes themselves. But relationships are messy, even on good days. It stands to reason then that uncoupling is just a veritable nightmare.

The short story is that we're both flawed human beings, we did the best we knew how at the time, and it didn't work out. Very generic, very non-blaming, yet very true. If you were my therapist at the time, you would have so many more details to flesh out this story. As it takes two to couple, it takes two to uncouple--we were both to blame. The nitty-gritty details you need not know--the hostility behind cold stony silences, the fear behind passive-aggressive decisions, the disagreements of just about everything. But the general contributing factors are ones that most people share:

How I had internalized society's pressures to be coupled without even knowing it. How I was replicating generations of dysfunctional family dynamics. How my communication and coping skills could have been improved as well as his. How his failings and his flaws and how he coped with them had turned my love for him into resentment and anger. How in the end, no matter what we did, this was never meant to last--it was ultimately not a good fit.

So much so that I was dying in that relationship. I had, through the years, made decisions to remain in the relationship; and those decisions faded me like the sun fades upholstery. Through time I had become a faded shell of who I once was. I was but a mere shadow of myself. Survival mode eventually kicked in, and I had to save myself. I had to save my children; I could not be an effective parent when I could not be an effective human being. I could not continue to drown under the weight of being someone I no longer recognized nor loved.

So I learned to swim out of the rip current that had taken me away from shore. It took years of reclaiming who I was, and then trying things on to see what sticks and what doesn't. It took years of creating who I want to be. How I want to navigate the world. How I want to love. It took years to define the parameters of who I am, instead of being defined by society or a relationship.

At times it was exhilarating and fun, but most times it was terrifying and overwhelming. I learned how to interact with myself and others differently. I learned to change my expectations of myself and others. I learned that what people do to you is oftentimes what you've asked them to do.

And I will never forget once, my therapist told me that one day, I would no longer feel such anger towards my ex-husband, even after he had conducted himself poorly or did something not in the best interest of the children. I rolled my eyes at her. I understand now that our enemies keep us imprisoned in the past if we feed them anger and resentment and bitterness. I've learned that to act in the best interest of my children and myself, I needed to authentically accept and actively give compassion to my ex-husband.

As with everything in life, some days are better than others. I have come to appreciate (most days...OK, some days) the continuous opportunity he provides as practice for me to be compassionate and empathic and kind. Even on the days I don't see any logical reason why I ought to. But between you and I, that inability to do so contributed to the unraveling of our marriage. It's easy to be compassionate and kind to nice people, agreeable people, even strangers. But it is the hard work of being truly compassionate to those you are not naturally inclined to feel favorably towards. It is the hard work of remembering I am not to judge who is worthy or deserving of compassion and redemption. It is in these hard places where truth resides.

So today my shadow stands tall and strong. I am no longer a mere shadow of myself. I stand tall in my unconditional love and kindness to cast my shadow in this world. I don't think you can summarize that in an elevator pitch. And I sure as hell can't be contained in an elevator.


This post originally appeared on BonneVivanteLife.