What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
If only—those words began to haunt me when I realized I had married the wrong person. If only I had listened to my gut, my friends, my family. If only I had never believed that lie, if only I hadn’t been so lonely, if only.
I always knew I would get married later in life. Oh, I had been engaged in college, but at that moment I was more in love with the idea of love than with my fiance. Over time, I held firm to the idea that if I waited to get married, I would surely make the right choice.
Living in a small town at the age of 34, I began to cave to the pressures of the small town mindset. I was continuously grilled about my single and childless choices, or in their eyes, misfortune. Their beliefs nagged at my most basic need to feel love and acceptance. It is funny what the mind can be convinced into believing when confronted with societal norms. If only I wasn’t so difficult to get along with, If only I wasn’t so picky, If only I wasn’t so set in my ways, If only.
From the very beginning of our relationship, there were red flags, but I just kept trying to squeeze a round hole into a square peg. By that point, I had drank the kool-aid. I kept thinking if I worked a little harder, pleased a little more I, too, could have my happily ever after. I could be normal.
After the engagement ring was on my finger, I began to feel like a flower that had been placed in a small, dark closet . My soul began to wither without the light and nourishment of a healthy environment, a loving relationship.
I had became property, something to possess and control.
I was told on a daily basis that I wasn’t good enough, I was spoiled, my hair wasn’t the right color and my clothes weren’t appropriate. Affection became a negotiating tool. Each day I seemed to be a disappointment, not worthy of attention or love. As the verbal and mental manipulation continued I withdrew from friends and family. I was embarrassed to admit I had made a mistake, a big one.
I began to feel like I was crazy. I cried, begged, threw things, argued. I even pleaded to be loved, to be understood. You can’t reason with someone who had no intention of loving you.
What I went through was not love. Hell, it wasn’t even a friendship. What I had was a situation that had to be managed from the inside out
For a long time after my divorce, I wondered how I could have possibly stayed in such a hostile environment. Now I know, through yoga, contemplation, and good ole fashioned therapy, that I had to stay. My soul had to face these ugly truths that I was being told. These were the same truths I had unconsciously told myself for years. I had been living in a controlling, hostile environment, in my mind, my whole life, and this man had merely become the manifestation of my thoughts. It wasn’t until I looked at myself in the mirror, through his eyes, that I began to really see how destructive I had become. Only then could I break the mirror, break the cycle, and fight to breathe.
Somehow, years ago, a voice had whispered “you’re not good enough.” It might have been after the boy in fifth grade told me I had fat knees. Maybe it was the time I was told to quit bawling when I was upset. I could come up with a million times someone had hurt me, but the actual words don’t even matter. What matters is that I began to actually believe them. The common denominator was me.
Every bad choice I had made, including my marriage, was merely a reflection of my low self-worth. I just didn’t think I deserved anything better than what I was getting. To make matters worse, I continually placed myself in negative environments that only seemed to reinforce my beliefs. Talk about self-sabotage.
I now realize I didn’t love my ex-husband any more than he loved me. That was important for me to figure out because I was not a victim. I had done this to myself. Not because I enjoy pain, but because on a deeper level, my soul knew what I needed to learn in order to grow. In order to become the flower that breaks through the underbrush, blooms brightly and leans toward the sun, I had to understand that the universe kept giving me the same lesson over and over until I learned it. Each time the lesson had became more extreme, more urgent until I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
This wasn’t my first bad relationship, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit, not my last. But, I’m still here, learning, growing, breathing, living.
Up to this point in my life I had been worrying more about trying to be the right person for someone than finding the right person for me. I had more masks than a costume shop. It has taken time to pull back those layers to expose the raw flesh beneath. The vulnerable parts that are still tender to the touch.
Now, I have a new life, and I do my best every day to look toward that sun, the light.
Normalcy is just an illusion, and I don’t focus on the “if onlys” anymore. I just live everyday to accept myself as I am.
But every once in a while, I go back to that closet. I open the door, breathe in the stale, musty air and return to my old thought patterns that still try to cling to me like dusty cobwebs. It is those times that I am insecure, afraid, uncomfortable in my own body, and ready to fight the world. Sadly, this battle can only be fought from within. During those moments, I must force myself to brush off the cob webs, turn toward the light, and breathe.
It helps that the light is so much bigger and brighter than in those days. Or maybe it had just been hidden from me by my own cloud of self-doubt. Today, the sun is everywhere; on my yoga mat, in my boyfriend’s arms, in my pets’ eyes.
It was only when I could truly realize my own self worth that I could be free to see the world as it really is. Now I realize the sun was always there, but I just had to be willing to see it.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman