Since my divorce, I’ve had many people tell me to guard my heart.
It seems most people I know feel I should protect myself from pain by choosing not to feel too much, not to trust or be vulnerable. While I know that the advice is well meant, I have decided to take the opposite approach.
I don’t want to live my life one step removed. I don’t want to be numb.
I realize that my way will most certainly cause my heart to be broken. In fact, I fully expect it to break again and again as I choose to open up and live more authentically. I’m choosing the path of being vulnerable because I can’t stand the thought of only investing a small part of myself in my relationships. I want to be a fully engaged mother, sister, daughter, friend, girlfriend, colleague, family member, writer and dreamer.
While I admit that there are moments where it may seem easier to choose to ignore feelings than to face the truth, I have a need right now to push myself away from that “easier” path.
What is the “easier” path?
Let me tell you what I know:
When my marriage began to crumble, I took the “easier” path every day. I wasn’t yet ready to face a number of facts about my life. On this path we chose to guard our hearts and trust so little. It’s the path where we keep ourselves numb and unattached so that we may not feel hurt so deeply. We build walls to keep people out. We don’t tell someone when their actions result in hurt or anger for us because we don’t want to challenge the status quo of our relationships. We keep our thoughts, feelings and dreams to ourselves. We don’t ask for what we need, because we’re not sure that we’ll get it. We keep our heads down and keep moving forward.
The easier path isn’t easy though it may seem that way in that moment.
After relocating and starting over post-divorce, I concentrated on putting my life back together. Every day I felt more and more like myself. I focused on my family and friends, and slowly created the life I had wanted to live. Once I had settled into some semblance of a routine, I realized that I was lonely. More accurately, I realized that I had been lonely for years and was ready to try dating again.
My dating experiences did not start out positively. During this period of time, it was so easy to get discouraged and feel like giving up. It was hard to keep opening up my heart when everyone I met seemed to disregard it so easily. I won’t say that it wasn’t painful—it certainly hurt.
What I knew then—and what I still know—is that it’s important to be able to feel things.
I was numb and lonely for so many years. And while I hate the pain of my vulnerability, I do feel more alive and real and connected than I have in ages.
Now I’m choosing to be raw and open. I experience pain, sadness and disappointment at times, with moments of joy, elation and kindness. I feel powerful, strong and courageous. I’ve loved the people in my life fiercely and felt their support keenly. I’ve been able to let go of things in my life that no longer serve me and dig deep into some of my old behaviors to root out the source of the challenges I’ve faced.
Eventually, I met a very good man. I can’t tell you how that story will end, because I don’t know. What I can tell you is this: we must be grateful for having these beautiful hearts that love so much. Even on the days when we’re hurt or lonely or confused, we can be glad that we have the ability to connect with others and to keep reaching out for that genuine connection. We never have to voluntarily go back to being numb, even when things don’t work out quite the way we’d like.
We don’t have to shut ourselves down because it’s easier or smarter or because everyone tells us it’s the best thing to do. We can continue to push ourselves to be open because it serves our desire to be connected and authentic and fully alive.
We will not guard our hearts—we will choose vulnerability knowing that it will hurt. And we will choose every day to be grateful; grateful to feel the highest of highs that come alongside the lowest of lows. To live authentically and love freely.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Apprentice Editor: Annette Huebner / Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Bảo-Quân Nguyễn/Unsplash