It was Thanksgiving of 2001, and I was in my office at school, working at a furious pace to finish my doctoral dissertation. My dear friend Carol was with me, her wonderful support and spot-on proofreading skills an incredible help during a stressful time. My first husband and I had completed our residency and were back teaching at our college in North Carolina. It was tough to work full-time and finish the dissertation, and so the holiday was an important time to make the finishing touches so that I could defend in December and graduate. Instead of our usual trip to Florida to see family and friends, I had decided to stay home and work, and my husband, offering to give me quiet time alone, took off to Florida.
The moment I knew something was seriously, devastingly, wrong is etched into my mind. I was sitting at the computer and decided to call my husband to say hi and see how things were going. No answer on his cell, so I called our dear friends where he had told me he was staying.
Oh, we haven’t seen him. Didn’t know he was going to be in town!
I tried the next friend…who said he thought my husband was staying with a woman we met during our doctoral study. Oh.
I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach and I began to shake uncontrollably. My friend Carol rushed to me to ask what was wrong. My worst fears had been confirmed, and I was stunned. How could I have been so stupid? So blind? My friend held me as I cried, but soon the tears stopped and something else took root. I felt the anger boil up, but also felt the determination. I sat at my desk and got back to work. I finished the document, passed my defense, graduating with straight A’s. I applied for jobs in other states, and we filed for a legal separation, ultimately divorcing. I knew I would not let what happened to my mother – interestingly at the same age, also with a woman ten years younger, with a similarly sounding name- happen to me. Unlike my mother, I had education and financial security on my side and could land on my feet. And I did.
It seems like another lifetime, and where I used to feel anger, I honestly now feel gratitude. Each step of the way, each heart-wrenching moment, was necessary to make me leave a relationship that had been unhealthy for me for many years. I would have stayed forever…but if I had, I would have become a shell of who I am. I never would have come to Birmingham and found Dan, the greatest gift of my life. I wouldn’t have found my inner strength, tried new things professionally. It all fit together like pieces in an intricate puzzle…just one that I couldn’t understand without the gift of hindsight and perspective.
Life happens, people grow apart, things change. He was not perfect, nor was I. I wish him happiness and am grateful for the love we shared. Time has given me the opportunity to see what was a crippling experience at the time as actually the wake-up call that I needed to shake me out of complacency. I faced my fears of the “what if”, and while it was incredibly painful, it led me to the happiest time in my life…so very worth the cost. It has been that way with so many of the challenges in my life…they seem insurmountable at first, until perspective allows me to see that they were there to open up a path to learn and grow.
I will choose the rocky path, the one that makes me truly live my life. When I look at challenge as opportunity, my whole paradigm shifts. I am more optimistic, more hopeful, my strength grows. I regret nothing that has happened to me; instead, I feel gratitude for the lessons and I move forward in love.