Sometimes events happen that change something within you, make you stronger, better- even when you had no idea that there was a well of strength within you. It seems to happen in a moment of clarity; a moment before you were stuck in the mire of what was, and a moment later you are set free- you see the truth…you see your truth. I will never forget my moment of clarity- it is etched into my heart and mind…the day my life really began in some ways. Perhaps at least the day when I finally took control of my life.
It was December of 2002, and I was in my first year of teaching at UAB. My first husband and I were legally separated, but we were still making half-hearted attempts at reconciliation, going together to Florida for the holidays to see our mothers as we always had. He came from his university across the country to Birmingham, and we drove down in the old Camry that had once been ours and was now mine, with my two dogs, Guinness and Murphy. I felt hope that we would be able to make things work, even though we were teaching across the country from each other and had separated. We were so very different from each other in most every way, marrying young. We loved each other, but there had been many serious issues in the past few years. I wanted badly for things to work out…I have never been a quitter. Sometimes, though, being a “quitter” is not quitting really- just standing up for yourself, closing a door on the unhealthy and opening another door to growth and change. No matter what, it is scary.
We went to visit his mom first, a woman that I love to this day. Our visit did not go well, as my expectations of the trip were not at all in line with my husband’s. We spent a lot of time arguing, and I spent a lot of time crying. I considered leaving on my own, but decided to hold out until we got to Tampa and I would see my mother. I needed her gentle embrace, her wisdom. The drive was uncomfortable, the air bristling with unsaid words and obvious frustrations on both sides. Was this truly what marriage was supposed to be like after fifteen years together? I had cried so many tears over the last couple of years that something began to change in me, an idea or belief began to crystallize. Maybe this wasn’t all there was to life – maybe I needed more, maybe I deserved more?
I was deposited with the dogs at my mother’s mobile home in the Strawberry Ridge retirement community. My husband went off to do his own thing, and the time that I thought we would spend together to reconnect was not to be. I felt cold inside, emotionally numb. I tried to put on a good show for Mom, but she knew me too well, and I finally opened up to her about my sadness and the realities of what was happening to my marriage. On New Year’s Eve, a friend took me for a girl’s day at a spa as an early birthday present. After a massage, the therapist told me that she was also a Reiki practitioner, and asked if she could do some Reiki on me. I had told the woman nothing about what I was going through, but as she worked on me she said, “I don’t know you, but I feel like I need to tell you something. You are stronger than you think you are, and though it is tough now, everything will be okay.” Chills ran over my body, as all of my fears came bubbling to the surface. I was turning forty in days, had just moved to a new city for a new job, contemplating leaving behind a long marriage and many emotional ties. Could I survive? Was I strong enough?
I had tried to call my husband throughout the day to find out what our New Year’s Eve plans were, but never reached him. I returned home to Mom’s house and finally got one of my husband’s friends on the phone. He told me that my husband was at a New Year’s Eve party with a friend, someone who had been our friend…and was now no longer my friend. I felt something break inside of me and lay awake all night after crying in my mother’s arms, feeling desolation, loss, anger, and something else- strength and resolve. Perhaps this is what I needed- after all that I had been through, I needed to be pushed over the edge to finally let go of an unhealthy relationship. I decided what I had to do, and told my mother and my mother-in-law that I was leaving early in the morning, several days earlier than I had planned, and going home to Birmingham. My mother was deeply sad as this was our time to be together, but she understood, having been at this place before herself. I called my husband and told him that I would be happy to buy him a plane ticket, but I was taking my car and going home. I wasn’t myself- I was a new person; where I had been a wreck before, I was now calm, cool, and collected. My husband was flabbergasted, as I had always done everything I could to keep the peace, never standing up for myself. Something had shifted in me, and I felt a surge of power like I had never felt. I loaded the car, put the dogs in their seat, hugged my mother goodbye, and headed down the road. With every mile, I felt stronger, more sure of myself.
Yes, I was turning forty and was starting over in many ways, but I could do this. Like my mother before me, I had a deep well of strength, dormant, waiting until that moment of clarity when I was ready, when I understood how to tap into it. It wasn’t easy, but there was no other option. I couldn’t stay where I was not loved, where I was not an equal. I had never spoken up for myself, but now my voice was ready to be heard, loud and clear. I can see so clearly arriving back in Birmingham at my old Blue House, opening the door and seeing my dogs rush in. I told them, “We’re home, Boys…we’re home.” And we were. A whole new chapter beginning, the pages fresh and empty, waiting for me to write the next words. I was ready.
Do I have regrets? Of course I’m sad that my first marriage ended, but I wish nothing but happiness and peace to my former husband, and I think and hope he feels the same way. He is much happier, and I am happier than I have ever been in my life. Neither of us was perfect or blameless in the demise of our relationship, but we both have had the opportunity to heal and move forward. I have always believed that everything in our lives happens for a reason, and I have no doubt this is true in this case. It has taken me years, but as I look back, I can see how much I grew through everything that I experienced, perhaps how much I needed those challenges in my life to shake me out of complacency. I would go through all of the pain again to prepare me for the life I have now with sweet Dan. Everything that happens to us is a blessing when we let ourselves see it that way…something I work to remind myself of every day.