Looking back at who I was during my first marriage, compared to who I am now, the one obvious difference (at least to myself) is my ability now to be truly vulnerable around the people I love.
Back then, it wasn’t so easy for me.
Back then, I struggled with my imperfections.
Back then, I was hard on everyone I loved for not being perfect because I was hard on myself for not being perfect.
To me, perfection meant maintaining a sunny disposition throughout all of life’s sh*t storms, keeping it together in the face of extreme stress, or cleaning the house with high heels on. To feel anger was a chink in my armour, to feel fear was weakness, to ask for help—-well, I just never did that.
I refused to acknowledge that my negative characteristics, the shadows to my light, were an intrinsic part of who I was.
I thought to accept them as a part of my beautiful self was to not be beautiful.
So I ran—and by running from those parts of myself, I ran from all of myself and was never truly able to love all of me, because I hated half of myself.
You can only guess how it all turned out for my first marriage.
Why is it that we are all so afraid of our dark side?
Why do we run screaming from the more sinister corners of our characters, choosing to keep them hidden, gathering dust and cobwebs, suppressing, repressing, swallowing, biting down?
What is so unfathomable about acknowledging that there is a flip side, a twin to our brighter and more affable characteristics? We hide—to suppress, to repress and to deny the existence of a very significant part of who we are: those 50 dark shades that colour our souls, helping to shape and mould our decisions, our reactions and our characters.
Perhaps it is that we live in a world of Photoshop and impossible physical ideals, where the news and goings-on in our daily lives that we give to our friends and loved ones is edited and cropped on Facebook status updates; where we cheerily tweet our delight at being on vacation or marveling at the joys of parenthood.
We project perfection. Sadness, fear, anger, shame—it’s all on the cutting room floor, never to be seen by anyone outside our own homes.
We need to be seen as perfect by everyone around us because imperfection is unacceptable.
What changed for me?
After the failure of that first marriage, I had no choice but to sink or swim. I had no money, no home, no social network around me, as we had divorced while living a foreign country—so I had to decide: either wallow in my drama, swearing off love and intimacy, humiliated from the crumbling fairy-tale marriage, the imperfect divorce and being the victim of my first husband’s imperfections—or to grow.
I chose growth.
I was raised in a strict, academically-oriented, perfectionist household so I had no choice but to choose growth.
In doing so, I had to take a good honest look at myself—all of myself. No cuts, no edits, no Photoshopping, no Facebook statuses—just me: stark naked; good and bad; yin and yang. I had to acknowledge my active role in my life, take responsibility for my decisions that led myself to that point—so I searched the shadows and called upon my dark side.
We all have these dark, slimy, scales that we fight to keep hidden.
It is this very aspect of who we are that makes us behave in ways that are less than ideal—shameful even. Ironically, it is in showing these imperfections’ to others that we are at our most vulnerable and most likely to grow, to shine, to ignite that flame that is the source of our passion and loving spirit.
I called on my dark side, inviting her for tea several times a day during those dark months following my separation from my first husband.
Sometimes we chatted, sometimes we wrestled, but always I was able to ask her some important questions: what was I afraid of? Why did I react that way to that situation and what did that trigger? What did I feel I was missing? How did I feel about trust, about love?
I do not yet have all of the answers, but every single time I was forced to face her, I came a little bit closer to knowing who I was, to accepting where I was and to establishing a little bit more inner peace. This is true even nowadays, when that same darkness creeps in like a fog and I have to talk myself off the ledge and ask those same questions—I’m still learning.
This is the most honest relationship I have had with anyone and that counts for a lot.
Ignoring the darker reaches of our psyches and spirits creates a chasm between the person we are and the person we want to grow into. It limits our potential to do what all humans are here on earth to do: connect with others. Let’s be frank, if you keep stamping that sh*t down inside of you, you’re only inviting it to come bubbling up to the surface all the more intensely, probably at the most inopportune time (ahem—family reunions, anyone?)
What if we all reacted with love, instead of fear and self-loathing, at our mistakes?
What would change within us and in our relationships, not only with ourselves, but with others?
Probably a helluva lot, my friend.
I do not think that this realization would have saved my first marriage. In fact, I firmly believe that the marriage failed so that I would have this realization, for I am now happier than I have ever been in a long time. I no longer blame myself, or him, for its failure. Instead I thank Goddess that life unraveled the way that it did. It has made me a more mindful and loving partner to my current husband and has made me a more patient and loving observer to myself.
I am far from perfect—but I am starting to be okay with that.
Our dark sides are not there to be forgotten or locked away. They are there to remind us of how far we have come and how much further we have to go. They teach us that nobody is perfect and that’s okay and if we can treat ourselves with loving kindness and forgiveness, then we’re more likely to extend that honour to those around us. And this is precisely why we need to stop running and turn around and shine that light into those dark corners.
Go ahead. Poke the hive.
You will be all the stronger (and kinder) for it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Bronwyn Petry/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photos: Juliana Coutinho/Flickr Creative Commons