This week I found myself reflecting a lot on struggles and what they mean. How struggles can be dark and challenging but they can also be a catalyst for other things. They can be that kick in the butt or that spark that some of us (aka ME) need to finally get it together. The months following the end of my marriage have been particularly dark and full of struggles for me. As I looked back on the last few years of my marriage, I realized there were so many things, things that seemed minor then but so obvious now. Things that were like signposts toward the end of the marriage. Things that were clues to where we are now. It’s been painful to revisit but hindsight is an important and cruel teacher. A teacher that makes us reflect and find lessons even when it hurts and its hard. With matters of the heart, matters of love and losing love, it can be very challenging to find the lesson or see the silver linings. Going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are natural. Some days I feel like I go through them all in the same day, hour by hour. Other days I feel like I fully accept things like I am thriving again. Then something happens that triggers me back into anger or depression again. The stages are never linear. Another big stage for me has been the reflection stage. Reflection and hindsight go hand in hand.
I have been very reflective in the first few weeks of 2019. Reflective about the end of my marriage, reflective about my relationships with men in general, and reflective about how those relationships impacted my relationship with myself. I took a deep hard look because I set the intention that 2019 would be a year of gratitude, a year of rebuilding, a year of deep reflection, and a year of healing out loud. So in that spirit, I wanted to take a moment today to thank a few of the men that I’ve encountered in my life. Men who broke something in me that I’ve had to find a way to mend. Some of those mendings have taken longer than others. All taught me something about myself, who I want to be for myself, and what kind of partner I need to be. Men whose names don’t matter but who I must thank for their inability to love me, their insecurities, their issues, and their problems. I examined the damages they left in the aftermath of my relationships with them and made a list of the important lessons each of these men taught me. I wrote them each a little thank you below:
To the one who ripped the packaging off my 15-year-old heart and strung it along for years to make yourself feel powerful. You were the first person I ever loved intensely with the pure and innocent excitement that only a teenager could have. Thank you for being the first one to teach me that emotional distance isn’t always a mystery and that broken people only know how to break others. You showed me how much my heart could break and still function. You gave my heart a higher propensity for resilience than I could have ever given myself. That resilient heart served me well in future heartbreaks.
To the one who showed me love and affection in private but never in public. The one who tried to make me think being kept a secret was supposed to be cool and exciting. Thank you for being too insecure to own your feelings. Thank you for making me believe that the curvy package my personality came in was not worthy of being loved out loud for all to see. Your hiding me from your life set the foundation for the years of uphill self-esteem battles I had with myself in my 20s. Battles that other men easily exploited. I am still learning how to be comfortable in my skin and fall in love with my curves, my gifts, and my flaws. But I know now that I am worthy of being loved out loud.
To the one who was my friend, a central character in my coming of age moments and memories. The one who was the quintessential platonic homie until the night you had too much to drink and forced yourself on me. Thank you for helping me understand what it feels like to be violated when my guard was down, for being the person who brought me face to face with my own shame, for showing me what it means to fear the familiar. Your actions put me in a state of permanent vigilance and fueled a constant need for control that I still lose myself in sometimes. But you also gave me the ability to raise my expectations and maintain clear firm boundaries on my platonic friendships with men so that I never again assumed that friendship and safety were one and the same.
To the one who connected with my soul but ran away before our bodies could do the same. The one whose actions and eyes couldn’t hide his feelings or lie to me even when his words tried to. I know you weren’t ready or brave enough to surrender to a love like me when our paths crossed. Maybe you were never going to be ready and timing was never meant to be on our side. Thank you for showing me it was possible to freeze time with eye contact and epic conversations. Thank you for showing me how words could feel like touches and stares could awaken butterflies in my gut and flutters in my heart. You showed me how to deeply connect with another soul. I have been chasing that standard in my future relationships ever since.
To the one who loved my gifts and tried to fix my flaws with your constant criticism and comparisons. Thank you for helping me understand that when a partner creates conditions that is not love, that is control. You were the casualty of my discovering what my standards were. Sure, I could have settled down with you but that would have meant both of us would be stuck with love we don’t deserve. You were the first love I ever walked away from and possibly the first heart I ever broke. You gave me the gift of knowing that I could walk away from a love that wasn’t worthy of me. That gift has served me well ever since.
To the one who I invited into my heart after you made me laugh, the one who said all the right things, the one who showed me love and affection in public for an audience but never in private when I craved it the most. You spent years just playing house with me while I was attempting to build a life with you. Thank you for showing me that words are meaningless without actions. Thank you for showing me that it is possible to feel completely alone in the company of another person. Your abandonment when I needed you most taught me that dark struggles can be beautiful when you have to fight them all alone. Thank you for showing me that you can’t force what doesn’t want to flow with you. You gave me the gift of your absence and in that void I found myself. That was the only thing I needed all along.
All of you together taught me many things. Collectively the most important lesson you all taught me is this:
No man can make or break my life because only I can do that. No man can complete me because I am already whole. No man can love me the way I deserve to be loved because I have to love myself that way first. None of you had that much power over me. You all only had what I chose to give you. Your actions were the sparks for all these lessons but in my own inner work and reflection, I found wisdom and healing.
For those of you out there dealing with challenging matters of the heart, I invite you to try this exercise. What can you thank those past loves for? What scar did they leave you with that can be transformed into a lesson, into wisdom, into a catalyst for your healing?
Thanks for reading.