the year that made me whole

It’s been a while since I sat down to simply write. Without structure or intention, without plans or expectation.
I’ve been avoiding writing this and simultaneously excited for this day to come and go for 365 days now.

A year ago to this date, the entire foundation I had built my life upon was completely ripped out from underneath me. I was 7 days away from marrying someone I thought was the man of my dreams when I found out he’d been cheating on me for (admittedly) several weeks with a young girl from his gym.

Someone who had taken multiple trips with us as a couple.
Someone I called a friend.

I found out by looking through his phone—something I had never done before and never want the inclination to have to do again in a relationship. Things had felt off for a few days and I was so unsettled living in this excruciating “gray” area not knowing what was going on. He told me everything was fine, I wanted to believe him, but my heart said otherwise. Without going into too many unnecessary details or re-living the past more than necessary, I found out what I needed to know and I called our wedding off 7 days before it was supposed to happen.
He begged for forgiveness and said he would spend the rest of our lives gaining my trust back.

I asked him to move out of our home the very same day.

And like a Band-Aid being ripped quickly from my entire heart, a wound was exposed, raw and stinging, that I wasn’t sure would ever heal.

Aside from necessary encounters for things like separating our cell phone bill and items he forgot at the house, we haven’t had a whole lot of contact and I never received much closure.

He promised I would never see the two of them together again.
That they weren’t talking and had no plans to pursue anything.
That it was all a mistake.

He’s been dating her publicly ever since.

Those are the facts—that’s all I really need to share or explain, because that’s not what any of this post is even about.

It’s about the days that followed.
It’s about here.
It’s about now.

My life changed so quickly overnight that I woke up and didn’t even see my own face in the mirror. I didn’t know who I was, what was happening, or how I would ever recover from this. I lost 15 pounds in less than 2 weeks.

Breathing felt painful.
Standing alone felt impossible.

The betrayal stung like chilling windburn on the top of a mountain and my future looked completely unrecognizable to me.

My unwavering tribe stepped in and took care of the necessary details while I focused on remembering how to breathe as the seconds ticked by. I can’t tell you how many times I would get lightheaded and realize I was holding my breath again; it was like my body didn’t even know how to function anymore.

All too often, I would wake up in the middle of the night to find myself curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed because neither side felt like home anymore. Each time, tears would fall down my face as I was forced to remember everything all over again. It didn’t feel real or fair or make any sense at all. So many people said I was strong and that it was a huge blessing in disguise and I wanted to punch them in the throat every single time. Usually I would just smile and nod.

This wasn’t my life.
I didn’t want to live this nightmare any longer.

The anger and the bitterness were the worst part. I would find myself hoping for bad things to happen to them. I would imagine so many scenarios in my mind and find peace and comfort in hoping karma would come back around.
I turned into someone that I hated.

I felt like a fire was inside of me when I thought of them together.
It was painful and
it was addicting.
The flames hurt less than the sadness.
So I let the fire burn. I said I hated them. I tried to make myself believe it.
I said they would get what they deserve.
I let myself live inside the fire without realizing it was my own body getting burned by the flames.

My pastor gave me the analogy that forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s like a large tree with big roots and each time you encounter the bitterness, you must break that branch off and throw it into the fire to burn. We must watch pieces of our past turn to char and dissolve away before our very eyes. Without seeing it with our own eyes, we will continue living in the belief that none of it was even real.

I learned that I am the tree, and that my roots of bitterness grow deep.

I made it my goal to break off all the bitter branches whenever they poked me in the lungs and caused my breathing to go shallow.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let the bitterness live here anymore.
It was so hard to lose the safety net I had created by occupying my time with negative thoughts about them, but I knew it was my only choice in releasing the anger.

So, I stepped away from the flames and finally decided to let the ocean of sadness swallow me whole.

This is where I lived now.
Drowning in saltwater tears and fighting like hell to come up to the surface over and over again simply to gasp for air to fulfill life’s most basic need.
Wondering how and why and if my heart would ever be okay again. It was completely exhausting.

The hurt just kept coming.
Hurt. Hurt. Hurt.

But I let myself feel it all.
I did this alone and with others, at home and in public.

I promised myself I would feel it now so I wouldn’t have to feel it worse later.
I got in the trenches and let myself float in the sadness until it didn’t feel so hard anymore.
Some days, I’d even get brave enough to open my eyes and look up at the stars.
Those days will always be cherished.

Those days gave me so much hope.

I saw little glimpses of a world that didn’t feel so heavy and I kept promising myself I would hold on until I made it to that world. At the time, it felt like I was living in a completely different universe.
Throughout all of this, life had to carry on.

I went to work, I tried to remember to eat and drink water, I returned texts when I could, I slept a lot, and even though it felt like crawling, I was able to look behind me and see the little progress I had made.

Every inch away from the crime scene felt like something worth celebrating.

Even though I was truly proud of my efforts, I won’t lie when I say I wished every single day that I could fast forward to when it wouldn’t hurt anymore.
I wanted to get to the universe where forgiveness lives.
I thought maybe my happiness might live there too.

I’ll be completely honest about this part, because heartbreak and grief and loss is hard. And none of it is pretty.
I did everything I could to keep moving forward with grace and humility. I set my alarm and made it to work every morning; I tried to be active by taking walks or getting outside when I could, and I let my friends and family hold me up when I couldn’t stand on my own. But I also visited my doctor and had a prescription for when the pain and emotions and tornado engulfing me was too much to bear. I was having so many debilitating panic attacks that my teeth would chatter while my entire body shook at night. There would be times I would have to use a wall to hold myself up in the middle of the grocery store because everything around me felt like it was shaking and trembling and closing in.

I did my best. I am still doing my best.
It wasn’t pretty.
Grief never is.

I started to learn in my own humbling struggle that we are all healing in the best way we know how.
We are all surviving in the best way we know how.
A lot of those first few weeks and months looked just like that—surviving.

On the outside I did my best to appear like more than that, but if I’m being completely honest, it didn’t feel like much life was being lived at all.
And that’s where I needed to be.
And that’s okay.
Some days, that’s still all I can ask of myself.

I started seeing a counselor and I explained that I wanted to work on a lot of things, but one of the most important things I wanted to focus on was letting my past go and learning to trust myself again so I didn’t hold it against my future someday.

I felt so scared that I’d never be able to trust someone again.
That I’d forever hold someone else’s mistakes against an honest person who didn’t deserve it.
Some of those fears still linger, but over the past year I’ve learned to understand a couple of things with patience and diligent practice.

One of those things is this: we cannot hold people in their mistakes.

We cannot define them by a moment, or even multiple moments of weakness.
Even though it’s easier.
Even though it feels so good to remember all of the ways they failed.

I absolutely hate to even write this, and it’s something I’m still struggling to accept, but I have grown to believe that
everyone we know is doing the best they can at that moment.

Even the people who hurt us—especially the people who hurt us.
Tying them down to their mistakes never lets them move on from it.
It never lets us move on from it, either.

One night I was talking with my uncle, sipping whiskey at his bar in McCall, and I made a snarky comment about my ex and his mistress, gallivanting around town like they’re happy as can be.

I said I know the truth,
that we all do.

“He deserves to be happy too, you know.”

That was my uncle’s reply.

And I literally wanted to reach across the table and smack him until he took it back.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to clench my fists until they bled so I could show the world how much it fucking hurt to hear someone say that.

But then I took a deep breath and tears started streaming down my face.
“He deserves to be happy too.”
I tested it out with a whisper at first.

I didn’t like how the words tasted in my mouth, but I tried saying it again and again and again until I was sobbing and I started to actually believe it myself.
Even though it hurt so bad that I could feel my heart shudder in an attempt to protect itself with every word.

He deserves to be happy too.
They both do.
Even though they hurt me.
Because everyone is doing the best that they can.
And how incredibly sad, truly, with all sarcasm and backhanded remarks aside,
how earth shatteringly sad is it that THAT is was the best they had to give at that time in their lives?

I can only hope and pray that if I ever find myself in a similar situation someday, I will make the choice to treat someone better than I was treated.
Because I am still doing the best that I can.
Because we all are.

I released them that day.

I released them from their mistakes so that I didn’t have to sit next to them while I held them there for one more second.

They deserve to try again.
And I do too.

I found that, as time went on, the amount of effort and energy that my heartache consumed began to lessen. I found myself laughing. I found myself feeling happy and starting to believe that I might start to enjoy this new kind of normal.

This is where the clarity began to emerge.

I was able to go back to the beginning, with an objective and clear mind, and identify where I had started painting red flags green.
I was able to learn that there was nothing I could have done to change it.
I was able to start recognizing where I was creating stories to help pad the bruises.

So much of our lives and thoughts are molded by the stories we tell ourselves. Something bad happens to us, and we immediately go back and look for trends on why we are unlovable or easy to leave or unworthy or broken.

We find patterns to justify these stories and we start to nestle into these stories as a new reality.
It feels safe to make sense of it, even if it’s a story without a happy ending.
It feels good to have control of the pen.

But I’m learning that sometimes it just is what it is.
Sometimes there aren’t patterns or reasons.
Sometimes really shitty things just happen.

And the only thing we can control is ourselves, our responses, and our choice to believe the stories our mind tries to tell us or not.

When I feel the stories creep in, I acknowledge them.
I say “hey unworthiness, hey fear, hey doubt, how ya doing?”
And then, I take a deep breath and release them.

I tell them they aren’t welcome.

I acknowledge that this is how I’m feeling at the moment, but it isn’t how or who I am as a person.
I allow myself to make note that these feelings are valid, but I also give myself permission to let them go. To see them as what they are—passing feelings.
Not truths I need to etch into my heart and mind and journey.

The more I’ve been able to release the chatter in my mind, the easier it is for me to see things how they actually are.
To accept what happened.

To find grace and true, humbling gratitude in the timing of these events in my life.
Even though it felt so painful and unfair at the time, my clarity and perspective now can’t contain the joy and grace in finding out what I did exactly when I did.

I felt like I was living a bad Lifetime movie when I called my wedding off 7 days before it was supposed to take place. I begged for a commercial break when the hurt kept coming.

But when I think about the alternative, I imagine spending this day right now writing my name on a divorce paper rather than writing this blog post.

I imagine standing at the altar and being lied to.
I imagine the pain and deceit and betrayal that would have been felt on a whole new level to give someone something so sacred and close to my heart.
And I feel grace that honestly makes me fall to my knees when I think about the fact that I haven’t given that away.

That I still have it and can still give it to someone worthy someday.
I feel so much gratitude in this second chance that I have received.
Even on the days it still hurts like hell.
Even on the mornings I wake up and wonder how this is even my life.
Especially on those mornings.
That reminder is what gets me through the day.

The biggest lesson I think I have learned over the past 365 days has been a hard one, but it has truly had the most impact on the way I live my life and the hope I allow myself to have for the future.
I carried the mentality of a victim in my back pocket for a really long time after everything happened. I walked around with a chip on my shoulder and felt so angry that this could happen to me. I wondered how I would ever trust or love again, how I could ever be sure I wouldn’t get hurt like I am hurting right now.

And one day, in the middle of a counseling session, I felt tears start pouring out of my eyes, spilling onto my cheeks, and I could taste the salt kissing my bottom lip.

“I guess the best and worst part about all of this is the fact that you can’t ever really know. You can’t ever be certain.
People are going to hurt us.
We are going to be betrayed and wounded and we will rise and we will fall.
The reason we love again is because love is worth it—not because it’s certain.
I could fall in love with my true soul mate, promise him forever, and he could get hit by a bus the very next day.
I could fall in love with everything I thought I was looking for only to find out it was missing one thing I never knew I needed.
I could hurt someone, bad.
I could get hurt again, even worse than I could ever imagine.
In fact, I will get hurt again. That’s a fact of life.
But the fear of loving isn’t worth not loving again.

Because love, to me, is worth that risk.

It’s worth taking that first step forward even when I’m stepping into a pitch-black room.
It’s worth the risk of it ending, because I truly believe that good things only end so even better things can begin.
The hurt means it mattered, but the ending of the hurt, that means something better is waiting around the corner.
Because even when it feels like there’s no way the hurt will end, it does.
And it’s the most bittersweet beautiful and amazing thing.”

Our hearts are so incredible. They spend so much time suffering and still manage to find new spaces to love again. They expand in our heartache. They break and bend and grow in our suffering. And even when they’ve been to hell and back, they find a way to put the pieces back together.
Even when our heads tell us it’s impossible,
our hearts know better.
This is where I am.
And little bit little,
day by day,
this heart of mine has shown me that
the year that could have ruined me
ended up being the year that created me.
So, with trembling fingers and tear stained eyes,
I can finally say that
the year that should have broken me
ended up being the year

That made me whole.

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One thought on “the year that made me whole

  1. Thank you for sharing your raw pain and torture in tangible sentences for us to emotionally reach out and grab. I feel that I’ve walked in, breathed in, and lived your words and was able to release part of my own hell by reading what your year has been. We sometimes feel alone when walking through the fires and forget that someone’s having a parallel experience. Thank you.

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