I used to be so certain about what it was I wanted in a significant other.
Funny. Smart. Charming. Kind. Driven. Tall. Active. Ambitious. Smart.
I had a laundry list I checked off with each person I met, and I often discovered within the first conversation I knew whether or not we’d be riding off into the sunset in a happily-ever-after bliss.
After many years of searching and many years of encountering wrong after wrong after wrong, I met the person who met my laundry list with a mirrored reflection in his eyes. He had it all. And we were going to live happily ever after.
Seven days before our wedding day, I found out he was cheating on me.
My happily-ever-after shattered around my feet faster than I could Speak now or forever hold my peace.
My peace was ripped out from underneath me with sharp claws and deep cuts, slicing everything I thought I knew into a million tiny pieces.
I have never felt more scared, uncertain, and angry.
More than this, I have never questioned myself and my own judgment so much. I looked in the mirror and truly saw a stranger’s eyes staring back at me.
I frantically pulled my laundry list out to double-check and seek answers, only to find myself questioning how I could detour so deeply and paint so many red flags green to even be experiencing this situation.
I wondered if I could have changed it.
I wondered if there was something I could have done, or not done, or done a little better in order to avoid this ending to what was supposed to be a fairy tale.
I pointed fingers, I ached, I longed, I questioned.
I clawed, I reached, I fell hard to the floor more times than once, and I learned to lean on the angels around me with strong arms and a soft place to land when I couldn’t stand on my own.
I learned to lean into the pain, to accept it and release it.
I learned that both the accepting and the releasing offers me a gift.
It wasn’t pretty. It was actually pretty damn ugly.
I appreciate the ability we are given to put words to our feelings and experiences, but sometimes I wish I could write it all out, roll it around in a pile of shit, light it on fire, dip it in a pool of a thousand tears, and then hand it to an unsuspecting and confused person on the street.
Even then, it wouldn’t ever be able to capture the pain and terror and deep, bloody healing that can’t be explained by words alone.
Pain has the ability to turn into beauty, but it sure doesn’t feel like it when one is stuck between its endless grasp.
I have found myself begging tirelessly for a different outcome and simultaneously thanking my lucky stars for the outcome and second chance I have been handed.
I’ve realized the fear and pain that this situation held is nothing compared to the fear and pain I would have experienced in the future had I not found out the truth when I did.
I threw myself a handful of pity parties and I showed up early to every single one.
I have learned that each of those tiny stepping stones helped me lay a foundation to tiptoe across the river. Every tiny rock of healing was necessary, painful, and essential.
After the dust settled and life continued to show me that it will continue to spin on whether I am ready or not,
I decided it was time to be ready.
And that was when the work began.
The work in the deepest trenches of the darkest corners of my soul.
The work that felt a lot like tears on the hardwood, and quiet, hollowed surrenders as I set the dinner table for one.
The work that never ended, the timecard that has yet to be punched out.
The work that begs me to turn around and go the other way.
The work that whispers I will never be able to trust myself again.
The work that trusts and loves and forgives anyway.
The work that sucks me into the darkness every chance it gets, simply so I can remind myself I hold a candle within my own burning heart.
I show up every single day and I surrender every single night.
I have failed, more times than I can count, but every single time I think about giving up I remember that the alternative does not exist.
The trick is learning that there is no trick.
You just have to keep running, or walking, or crawling, until you come out on the other side.
And one day, you realize, from a place of both terror and relief that the other side doesn’t even exist.
It sounds really beautiful metaphorically, but, literally, it simply isn’t there.
We are always on both sides of everything we have ever experienced. We can take 10 steps forward and be brought 20 steps back in a matter of hearing the first chord of a certain song on the radio. I thought the work I was doing would help me get to some other side of all of this, but I’m learning in patience that the work just helps me fine peace with where I am.
No running, no escaping, no getting.
I’m already here…
… we all are.
And the hard work just helps us learn how to stay.
I’ve also learned that the laundry list of things I thought I was looking for is no comparison to the daily choice that must be made in order to love, respect, and communicate no matter what life throws our way.
Tall doesn’t equate to trust.
Charming doesn’t equate to honest.
A good job doesn’t equate to a good life.
All of these things sound great in theory, but I’ve learned that the more I know, the less I realize I actually know.
Lists allow us to close ourselves off to possibility by giving us a safety net to focus on. But that safety net absolutely and utterly failed me.
I’ve also learned that when our hearts become involved, checklists don’t really matter.
In hindsight, I looked past a lot of things that might have been included on my lists with past relationships because I found a feeling that could never be described in a single word on a checklist. And, honestly, I’m so thankful for that.
That lesson alone has helped me realize that it’s important to have standards and boundaries and aspirations, but it’s also just as important to allow our heads to pause for a moment to listen to the song our hearts are singing.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tune out one or the other, but allowing my head and heart to sit down for tea and get to know each other has been the single most important gift I’ve ever given myself.
It’s helped me learn how to fall in love with myself first, and trust my instinct and judgment and experiences. It’s allowed me to forgive myself when that fails me, which it often does. It’s allowed me to give myself grace in knowing that things are going to happen daily that we cannot control, and, most of the time, there’s nothing we could have done to change the cards we’ve been dealt.
Thankfully, we can always choose how we play our hand.
I’m learning to feel everything my head and heart need me to feel, no matter how far backward or forward the feelings feel from where I am standing.
I’m learning that I don’t have to hold on to any feeling any longer than it desires to come and go.
And I’m learning this — there are still so many amazing, kind, wonderful people in this world. People that fulfill some, all, and none of the things on my checklists, but end up signing their name in permanent ink in the pages of my heart.
I’m learning that we are all just looking to give and receive love, and that that love comes in so many forms and categories and lessons.
I’m learning to let love find me, in all of its many forms, openly and gratefully, and rather than search for the meaning of this love on this checklist, I’m practicing handing it a guestbook instead.