the richest lessons can be found in the darkest moments

It’s awful. Falling apart is awful.

No two crises are the same, even for the same person, but there are common themes and feelings that arise when life as we know it falls apart. The sick, sad, anxious knotting of the stomach that can’t possibly consider food. The hot waves of shame that come and drench us with disabling embarrassment and regret and guilt and fear, leaving us chilled to the very marrow of our bones when they finally pass. The aching feeling of being separated from everyone around us, imprisoned within our misery, unable to be wholly comforted. The choking sensation of tears, never far away. The conviction that we did this, we deserve this, we don’t deserve help and nothing will ever be the same again. No matter who or what bears the blame, everything in a crisis is overwhelming and distorted into an oppressively negative perspective.

There’s no way around this, the only way to get through it is through it. Through all the anger and shame and fear. It took me two years to finally feel the rage I had built up from my first, and biggest, life crisis—for two years it lived in my stomach and heart and mind, poisoning me, hiding in shadows and affecting everything though I didn’t recognize it. Once I allowed myself to actually feel and express the pent-up rage against my ex-husband, it was only the start of my true healing—and unfortunately I was all caught up with another, and very toxic, relationship at that point, which slowed me down by another two years. Five years from my crisis, I started to feel fully healed and actualized from everything it took and gave and taught me, all the loss and anger and sadness.

I know the worst thing we can do is hide it away. Make things OK because we NEED them to be, by force of will and deliberately turning our backs on the hardest emotions and the most upsetting truths, because we know we’re to blame and it’s easier to take accountability than it is to feel anger, or because we’re too afraid of the emotions that might come out if we let them. I hid it away and turned my back for years. I don’t regret that time. I made some extremely bad decisions, but I also found peace and began to make friends with myself. The biggest benefit from running from my anger and not processing it was that I learned how important it is to never do so again. How vulnerable we are—without realizing it—when we’re wounded. How resilient and strong we are when we give ourselves a chance to repair. But the wounds have to be opened and cleaned, they have to have that stinging exposure to light and air before we can begin to cleanse them out and stitch them up. And it hurts. It hurts A LOT. A different kind of hurt than the aching festering soreness we’ve hidden from for so long. Much more immediate, impossible to ignore, impossible not to feel.

But that’s the start of healing. The sharpest pain, when felt fully, invited in, given space, even honored, will ease, and will leave behind a more wholesome wound that’s ready to start closing. Forgiveness is the final salve on those itching, healing wounds, helping seal them cleanly forever. They will leave behind scars, reminding us of the hard-fought wisdom we gained. We won’t make those same mistakes again.

I look back at myself five years ago, shaking and bruised and overwhelmed, and I see how far I’ve come. I also see the same person I always was, the person I will become through future troubles and grief. I gained so much insight about myself, yet there are whole continents left still to discover within me. So much more to learn, to heal, to release. And the crisis helped get me here—through all the terrible choices and pain and tears, through losing things I once thought I couldn’t live without. And I survived without them, I survived the loss of them. My husband, my best friend, my married identity and my marriage, my beloved pet, my self-respect and self-trust. The exterior things are gone for good. But I gained back my self-respect and self-trust. I gained a new identity, stronger and rooted in self, not in other. I learned what boundaries mean. I found my partnership with myself, found my faithful, wise inner guide, found a way to be alone without fear or lack.

I hate anyone has to go through such a sad and traumatic time. I hate that anyone has to bear a burden of shame and loneliness, and be afraid of what’s to come.

But in another sense, without in any way lessening my empathy for their pain, I’m excited for what could happen. I’m hopeful. If they can survive the pain and fire and grief and more bad decisions and upheaval and anxiety and overwhelm, they have a chance to rebuild on foundations stronger than they’ve ever imagined, out of the ruin of what was. It isn’t a quick process. Only recently am I finally feeling healed from my crises, five years from the first, a year from the second. I know I have more growing to do in just about every way—but I don’t think I have much more grieving to do. I feel at peace with what happened to me. Bubbles of anger or shame still rise occasionally, they did this week, but they’re much easier to let go of now. The deep contentment I feel at the truth of my life, the grace of having even a partial awareness of this truth, was worth every moment of heartbreak.

I wake up happy and hopeful, and I go to sleep the same. The superficial passing of emotions—boredom, dissatisfaction with work, frustration with others or myself, stress, irritation, resistance, greed, hurt, worry, embarrassment—these are nothing. They have no effect on the deeper satisfaction, gratitude and gladness I feel at my life. They come and go in ripples across a still, calm, silent lake. The depths of me is satisfied, is conscious of that satisfaction and grateful for it, is hopeful and yet detached. I used to feel as if I couldn’t possibly make sense of anything. I was caught up in an unhappy dream of myself, dissatisfied and lost, riddled with fear, beset by lack. Madly running from man to man and solution to solution, using anything to make the pain go away—except facing it.

I’m not afraid to face my pain. I’m not afraid of my darkest, most shameful secrets, my most reprehensible crimes against others, my most foolish choices, my most excruciating wounds. There will always be more rocks to turn over, more dark secrets to bring out, more behaviors to recognize and address. But for the first time, I feel whole. Wholesome and healthy, all the way through me, nourished and secure. I know I’m thriving—I can feel myself doing so, even as road rage or envy ruffles my surface. I would never have gotten here if it hadn’t been for the worst moments of my life.

So while I don’t wish that pain on anyone, I do wish on them what can happen after the pain. The freedom from dragging despair, from the cloud of dissatisfaction and negativity that never quite lifts, from autopilot and hiding from our own truths, fearing who we really are, unable to love ourselves with unconditional abandon like no one else ever can or will. The freedom to thrive.

disorienting freedom of singlehood

(Originally written in July, 2013, just over a week after my last relationship ended.)

This was my first weekend alone, and it felt disorienting and liberating. I loved knowing that my space was my own, to expand and explore and change and roam in at will. There is an aspect of loneliness, but I reminded myself that “it’s just a place to start.” I worked hard on projects, keeping myself distracted, but I also allowed for time to just sit or walk or rest with my thoughts. I’m not afraid of the silence, but right now there’s still a tender empty place inside me that he used to fill. I can only take so much of nothing before it starts to ache, and there’s no release in tears though I wish there was. I’ve cried everything out for the time being, and healing will just come with time, with journal writing, with talking to confidantes, with loving and taking care of myself.

I allowed myself some indulging in terms of spending, though not more than I can afford. It just feels good to buy my home and myself a few new things, just because it’s now fully mine. New dish towels, new olive oil pourer, new salt shaker, new tongs. New table for the backyard, new plants to fill in some gaps. Plenty of food in the cupboards, some new clothes. And a few free things, too – music I’ve been wanting to listen to, that I didn’t even realize I wanted or needed. One of my favorite movies.

I cleaned things out and threw them away – food, clothes, movie files, paperwork, dead leaves. I scrubbed out my fridge and reorganized my cupboards. I found many things that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend and our life together, and while they gave me twinges, some sore moments, through it all I felt a growing confidence and liberation. This is right. I’m supposed to be alone right now, supposed to be living in my apartment with my cats, taking care of my car, taking care of my money, my plants, myself. Not looking after anyone else. Not having anyone else look after me. Not giving energy to anything or anyone but myself and my friendships, as they need me – and to what extent I’m capable. I’m dating myself, developing a brand-new relationship with this divorced, single woman who lives in an adorable one-bedroom apartment with two cats, someone who has her life relatively together, a writer and publisher of books, a hostess, an adventurer, full of deep, abiding gratitude for her life.

Not chaotically torn between ending a marriage and beginning a new relationship.

Not struggling madly to set boundaries against a tide of manipulation and resistance.

Not planning my life around another person’s wants, needs, moods or problems.

Not waiting anxiously not knowing what might happen next – wondering if we’ll break up, if some new shoe will drop, for some new temper tantrum – or even some new expression of love and commitment.

Not stressed out and anxious, worn to a thin thread of patience yet desperately afraid to snap for fear of the consequences.

Not surviving day to day, clinging to what love and affinity there was.

Not codependent or waiting for affection that may not come.


Free of all of this, free to be whoever and however I need to be. Free to come and go and not have anyone walking in, bringing their stories, their needs, their issues, their emotions to pile in my lap.

Right now, I need to be free of that.

I need to cradle my own needs, issues, stories and emotions in a loving embrace.

I need to shake out the moths in my spiritual practice and look long and hard at my stories and how they’re defining and limiting me.

I need to build my friendship with me and with others. Explore. Create.

I need to inhabit my life as a fully empowered and independent person, for the first time as an adult not waiting on anyone else for anything. Not waiting for my ex-husband to come back or make a decision or help me with the divorce or get his belongings. Not waiting for my ex-boyfriend to make the movements in his life that he needed to make. Not waiting for any man to become a better and more equal partner to me, or striving to be a better partner to them.

None of that.

It’s odd and surreal and sort of hollow as victories go. But I do feel it’s a victory – over the status quo, over the pain and suffering of losing my ex-boyfriend, over my need to be loved more than respected, my codependent tendencies, my black hole of lack.

Tonight I can make myself dinner and sit on my back patio and read.

Or I can take a long power walk to McKinley Park, listening to music.

Or I can go to the dollar store and spend $4 on 4 things I really want.

Or I can take myself out to dinner.

Or I can go to Safeway for a pork loin.

Or none of the above.

My freedom is strange. It’s like a big loose rubbery emptiness around me, with so few limits (only in terms of vast limits of time, space, physics, riches, and so on). There’s a peculiar quality to it, a tenderness, a thrill of potential joy, a flavor of sorrow and grief for what was, a presence of the past still very much with me, knowing how things would have been only a few short weeks ago, in my old reality. This is the neutral zone, the very essence of a neutral zone. In spite of all the work that I’m doing in thinking and planning and celebrating New Beginnings, and in spite of the fact that in ending things with my ex I’ve started a new beginning, this is the time to float from the ending of one era, of the relationship, of the reality I knew, into uncomfortable nothingness – disorienting, strange, disillusioning nothingness – before the beginning fully arrives.

Tonight is one more marker, one more step on my road through this emptiness and discomfort and into whatever comes next. Tonight marks the first week of my ex-boyfriend moving out, a month since we had our last Monday date (the day his second chance began), the first real week of me living this new life on my own. And while there’s the flavor of sorrow and emptiness, I’m only just beginning to understand how grateful I am to let go of the spell of love, the need for attachment and intimacy, the unhappy watchful games I played for so long. Of course I sort of miss them, just like we miss anything we’ve grown used to. But they exhausted me. They tore me up inside. Reading over diary entries of the past two years reminds me of that more than anything ever could.

And now, I am really and truly done with it. I think I always knew the relationship would be the casualty of me becoming whole and happy again – it was one or the other of us, and in the end it had to be the relationship. Though I am only a speck, connected with all the other specks, no more and no less, part of this entire fabric of creation, I am still too worthy to be so brutally compromised for the sake of being loved. I owe myself better than that, and will not accept the unacceptable any longer.