In 2013, my pain threshold hit tilt. My husband, who worked in construction, fell off a roof, intoxicated. Thankfully, miraculously, he landed virtually unscathed. Upon my frantic arrival to the emergency room, however, it was I who experienced a sobering moment. Accustomed to his expressions of anger or remorse post-relapse, I braced for impact, wondering which it would be this time. Neither came. I realized in shock — I was unrecognizable to him. That blank expression became the final, pivotal tipping point prompting my courage to end an emotional 16-year marriage. Six months later, my father died.
The two most tumultuous and all-consuming relationships in my life were dramatically eradicated. Life had spoken, forcing me to let them both go. I shifted from a permanent white-knuckled, on-point existence in my marriage and unfolded into pain. I stopped and sat inside that grief, still, for the first time since I could remember. Never, ever, could I have imagined viewing that pain with deep gratitude, five years later. But, I do. Here’s why.
That raw, gut-wrenching hurt brought growth. Epic, necessary growth. The kind I know would never have occurred without the hard shove prompted by such excruciating life circumstances. Yes, pain can provoke good. Here is what I learned, finally.
You can’t change other people.
Read that again…
I promise. You can’t change other people.
Given how hard it is to change ourselves, how can we even begin to believe we can have success in others? Yet, I had spent my entire adolescence and marriage attempting to do just that — to no avail.
Stop Arm Wrestling, Let Them Be
My Dad was a complex, difficult man to love. So was my husband. It’s no surprise why I was drawn to him. There was a subconscious, magnetic pull. I loved them both, and know they loved me. Yet, I never learned to leave them alone and let them be, just as they were. From a young age I went toe to toe with my father in attempt to affect behavioral changes. While those years of honest, exhausting blows brought us close, his behaviors I had chosen to battle never ceased. Ditto throughout my entire marriage.
Quit Chasing Outcomes
I implored my father to stop drinking and treat us all, especially my mother, more respectfully. Later, in my marriage, I gave ultimatums, orchestrated interventions, researched rehab facilities, paid debts, drafted and deployed resumes and scheduled job interviews — all in my husband’s name. I did for him, what he needed to do for himself — essentially cutting him off at the knees. Worst of all, my frantic, fear-based efforts did nothing but nurture feelings of inadequacy in my husband. That reality guts me to my core, still today. I own my debilitating contribution to our challenged dynamic and will never stop trying to prevent myself from repeating it in other relationships.
Write Your Own Story
In short, the abrupt fleecing of these relationships taught me to stop attempting to wrangle the lives of others in my chosen direction. The practice failed miserably, despite decades of hearty attempts. Over time, slowly, I have learned to forgive my father and my husband for not being what I needed them to be. Forgiving myself for failing to help them has been harder — but I am getting there.
If you are desperate for others to change, let go. Accept them as-is. If, in the process of accepting, you cannot endure the “as-is”, the choice is always yours to move on. Don’t cling to “if-only” hopes or stubborn expected outcomes. Even more importantly, don’t remain immobile in fear. Write your own story. Keep writing it every single day. Fail, get up, and make edits. In that editing process, you’ll grow. Above all, don’t leave yourself undeveloped by attempting to live the lives of others.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Don’t die with music still in you.