At Christmas in 2009 I was blissfully unaware that my marriage was in trouble. My husband and I had two young sons and I’d recently given birth to a baby girl to complete our family. We had worked through some tough stuff and come out stronger. I believed we were happy. I felt blessed.
By February 2010 it was all over. It turned out that, for some time, I had not been living the life I believed to be true. Six weeks into the new year my husband left the marriage, suddenly and devastatingly, to be with someone else he had been seeing for months.
I have shared the story of my healing and moving on throughout the past 10 years. The recovery and rebuilding of my life became my work and now it’s my mission to inspire others to do the same. I show those who are going through a painful break-up that, they too, can use the devastation as a catalyst for their best lives.
Over 10 years I have learned so very much, that it’s not easy to condense it all in a single blog post! But if I were to pick out the most valuable lessons I learned through my healing – the ones I think would help others to have hope – it would be these.
1. I am enough. You are enough. Just as we are.
Your worth is not defined by your marriage, job, kids, status in life or anything else external. We all have a core part of us that is designed to give, receive and BE love. That part of us is bigger than any external validation could ever be. You might call it your spirit or soul. It was with us the day we were born, and it will be all we have left of significance on the day we die. Nothing else will matter. If we could just remember that on all the days in between, and use it to guide our lives, we would see life so differently and all be so much happier!
2. Family is more than blood
Excluding my children, I can count on one hand the number of blood relatives who are actively in my life. Although I don’t see them often, they are in my thoughts and heart and I am happy to know that we have that connection. But there are also the people that I have chosen as family. My ex-husbands relations and my new partner’s relations. The friends who I love and I know are there for me. My family landscape is entirely different to how it looked at the start of 2010, but it’s mine and it’s ok.
3. It’s ok to lose people from your life
I’m not just talking about your divorce here. Over the space of a decade I have lost friends through drifting apart and family members through estrangement and bereavement. Losing my marriage at the start of the decade slapped me with the impermanence of everything. People will come and go from your life. It’s ok to grieve them, and it’s also ok to keep moving forward without them.
4. You create your own reality
There is a school of thought that says whatever life throws at us, whatever happens to us, on some energetic level we have created it. That is certainly a bitter pill to swallow when you are going through the most painful of experiences that appear in no way to be your fault, but (after masses of resistance!) I actually found relief in this idea and believe it to be true for me.
The comfort came from realising that if I had unconsciously created some of the crap that happened to me, then imagine what I could create with positive intention and awareness! I could become the architect of the healing and new life I want to see. Your power lies in taking responsibility for your life and changing what needs to be changed. If we believe that bad things and good things “just happen” we become passive in our lives.
5. Forgiveness is not what you expect it to be
People do terrible things. Sometimes behaviours feel unforgivable, but that’s only because we think forgiveness is about the other person. It actually has absolutely nothing to do with them and everything to do with you and whether you want to carry the burden for someone else’s wrongdoing for the rest of your life.
I spent a lot of time in the early years after my divorce redesigning my idea of forgiveness, so that I could let go of what happened in my marriage and move forward with peace for myself. Forgiving is not a warm fuzzy feeling; it is not an erasing of everything that happened (or may still be happening). It’s a choice we make over and over, in order to lighten the load that is not ours to carry.
6. Courage comes from doing scary things
We tend to think this way round: “Once I’m brave enough, I’ll do it”. But you can never think your way into courage. As much as mindset work can help your thoughts, you have to take the brave action to feel that sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. And then what? You get a sense of relief and then the next thing feels scary and you do it anyway! And then the next thing and the next thing, because you are building your courage muscle by doing things which push you from your comfort zone. This is growth!
7. Being curious is the antidote to fear
When change happens in life, it is scary because we are hard-wired to fear the unknown. If you start to ask questions, instead of freezing in panic, it takes the edge off the terror. When I began to do the deeper work of healing from my divorce, the biggest shifts came from trying to see things from a new perspective. Could there be some meaning to what happened? What lessons were there for me in this pain? Is there anyway that this could be happening for me instead of to me? Just accepting that there could be another perspective, took away some of the despair, dread and panic I was feeling.
Over the past 10 years I have carried this lesson into all areas of my life. Every time things seem like they are going “wrong” or there are challenges in my life I get curious. You can do the same. Ask yourself “What is going on here?” “What can I learn from this?”. Notice how it reduces some of the fear.
8. Don’t waste an opportunity to grow
It’s not obligatory to have to have had deep pain in your life in order to live with purpose. But those who have suffered a major challenge or crisis have a special opportunity to turn the hardship into learning, inspiration or simply a willingness to reflect on and improve areas of their lives.
If we don’t change, we stagnate and may end up living with sad regrets. Often, if we choose not to learn from the past, we repeat the same patterns over and over and wonder why life feels such a struggle. 10 years on from my marriage I know I am a different person to who I was in many ways. I’ve learned that I don’t want or need pain to be my teacher anymore. I continue to grow, but now it comes from a place of desire to be more and do more with my life.
9. Creating future happiness begins with self-love
Healing requires self-love, prioritising yourself requires self-love. Finding a new relationship requires self-love. You can’t begin to build a happy future for yourself until you start to deeply acknowledge your self-worth. If your focus is exclusively on your ex-partner (and in the beginning, it often is) then you are not loving yourself fully.
When I recognised my own obsession (the thoughts about my ex outweighed thoughts about myself at least tenfold), it was time to draw a line. It sounds dramatic, but by focusing on him, I was betraying myself. The only way forward was to love myself more. Over this decade the biggest driving force for my life decisions (whether in my work or my relationships) are whether they are aligned with my sense of self-worth.
10. Gratitude is a miracle balm
It’s no secret that I rave about gratitude. I began practising it in a serious way a few months after the break-up, as a tool to help me with the healing. It is an instant mood shifter and I never underestimate its power to shift a thought from despair to hope. 10 years on I still use gratitude daily. I encourage everyone I know to use it, from my kids to my clients. I use it in my teaching programmes; I’ve written a gratitude journal; I post weekly about thankfulness in my support group.
I can say with full conviction that I am so grateful that my marriage ended the way it did and for everything I went through. This was something I never, ever believed I would feel back in 2010. If you don’t use gratitude regularly, I lovingly urge you to do so. Start small; every evening and every morning list 3 things you are thankful for. Notice how your life starts to feel different.
So, those are my top lessons from so many over the past 10 years. My life approaching 2020 looks nothing like I imagined it would 10 years ago. But who in all honesty can say that they can picture themselves 10 years on?
Here’s to hope, growth and self-love in 2020, with a sprinkling of curiosity for what life will bring.