January 25, 2023

What I learned from Burning Down my Cardboard Cake of a Life.

Standing in our walk-in closet, long and wide enough to hold two twin mattresses end to end with the tiger maple floor and high shelves, my black lace thong sits snuggly at my hip, my matching black bra decorating my 5’5”, 112-pound not-so-curvy but muscular frame shaped by years of weightlifting, yoga, and cardio, he pauses, taking me in with his eyes.

“You’re really sexy,” he says. Or perhaps he asks. It’s almost a question, as if he’s never seen me before.

I realize in that moment, he never had.

And now it was too late.

It had been 17 years, a college graduation for each of us, two dogs, one cat, one miscarriage, two healthy children, two homes, more black-tie events than I have fingers to count on, and one come-to-Jesus meeting about how I don’t want this life anymore. Now, two months after the beginning of the implosion of our marriage, as I’m standing nearly naked in our closet, he opened his eyes for the first time.

“You’re really sexy?” Seventeen years. Why now? Why this moment?

I had lived an invisible life inside my marriage—being there, but never being seen. Wearing the title of wife by wedding and legal declaration but never being a partner.

It took me years to realize I didn’t feel safe in my relationship, that I never had a true marriage, a true partnership. I woke up one day, and this awakening was not pretty. Seventeen years’ worth of tears poured from my eyes.

Grief. Abandonment. Rage. My body shook from sobbing.

Vividly awakened to the reality of this life, this marriage, seeing it with all its messiness, seeing that my life would remain a life of things, of possessions but not love, rage continued to rise to the surface with every gasping breath I took. I felt fury over this invisible existence filling every cell of my being.

I believe we are magnets—each one of us humans—and we attract based on our level of consciousness and the lessons we signed up for as participants in this life school on planet Earth. We can attract from our hearts or we can attract from our wounds.

As an adopted kid, I spent the first three decades of my life rationalizing and being “fine” with being adopted, being understanding of my biological mother’s young age at my birth, being grateful for the incredible family I was raised in and by, and for the otherworldly bond I had with my grandmother.

Being “fine” helped me ignore the abandonment, the lack of feeling worthy, and the lack of feeling wanted buried deep inside of my heart. My wound attracted relationships throughout my life that reinforced those feelings of unworthiness.

A relationship based in wound attraction rather than deeply passionate love led to the creation of children but not a tight family unit. It led to the shared experience of family vacations to lovely places like Scottsdale, New York, Maui, and Disney World, without the braiding together of warm memories and hearts that stem from truly being authentic, feeling safe, vulnerable, and understood. It led to loneliness inside this union. It led to me becoming someone I no longer recognized and someone I didn’t want to continue being.

This wound-based attraction led to a cardboard cake of a life. On the outside, it was frosted like a mouthwatering, multi-tiered cake, decorated masterfully with beautiful-looking events: fun destinations and holidays with family, concerts and sporting events, plenty of date nights and couples’ evenings out.

But trying to cut a slice of cake? It was like cutting into a cardboard box, rough and ragged, empty and lifeless. Now was the time to send the cardboard cake up in smoke. Pull the kids out. Burn every cardboard piece of it to the ground. The black lace thong too.

Clear the ashes. Begin again.

Living an invisible life can make being seen terrifying and simultaneously addictive. As I’m learning to be seen—really seen—in all areas of my life, I have grown to deeply understand the importance of vulnerability. Thank goodness for Brené Brown’s work in this space, which provides ample opportunity for personal development and internal reflection.

The addictive moments led to many aha moments when I experienced what real partnership and marriage look and feel like. Those moments where I’m safe and held leave me wanting more. Those are the moments where the real cake is being made with all the best ingredients: authentic love, playfulness, stumbling and knowing there’s a soft landing waiting, mutual acceptance and support of each other, celebrating one another, enjoying the big and little parts of life together, and understanding when the relationship mirror is in effect and I need to dig deeper inside myself.

The terrifying moments still leave me feeling like I’m standing naked in front of a crowd. But I’m getting better at feeling terrified and showing up anyway.

My new closet in my new home with my new husband holds a new wardrobe—hot pink thongs and all. And damn, I am sexy.


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