Marriage Burnout; How I Knew I Was on the Edge (Plus 3 Warning Signs for You)

"You better smell the smoke before your house burns down," is what my coach said to me. For twenty years I'd replied, "What smoke?"

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Woman with her hands on her chest.
Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I reached up and kneaded the center of my chest with the heel of my hand, stared out the window and thought, if I don’t do this, I’m going to have a heart attack and leave the kids motherless.

I’d been feeling the slightly-nagging chest pain for months. Wait, maybe it was years. You know how that goes when you get good at ignoring the signs from your body?

Thing is I’m a healer. I should know better. I teach this stuff for a living. What is wrong with me, I thought, and kept staring out the sliding glass door at the trees hoping the clarity would rush in like a small miracle.

It didn’t, but I’d already known for a few years. It was a matter of actually prioritizing myself for once. And now it was about my health.

“You better smell the smoke before your house burns down,” my coach repeated a little more firmly into my ear on one of our “SOS” calls. She’d warned me about my marriage before. I was good at ignoring her and trying harder instead. The thought of it, of wrecking my kids, of having to do this life without the safety net of his ridiculously-large salary terrified me.

Yet everything in me knew I’d have to find the courage to say the words, “I want a divorce,” and actually mean it this time. I’d have to prioritize my own joy. It was time to do something. My heart and the sharp pangs of pain I’d been experiencing were screaming louder. I should have paid attention when they first started to whisper. But my house hadn’t burned down yet. There was still time.

“I want a divorce.” I’d said it. To his face. Without faltering. With my mind made up. Completely terrified. There was less pushback than I’d imagined. I was disappointed. A small piece in me hoped he’d fight harder. But I’m sure he was tired too.

Following the worst year of my life in terms of inner critic, self-sabotaging torture, freedom fell on me like a warm summer breeze. And I vowed to listen sooner from now on. The connection I’ve cultivated to my intuition, to my body and its ability to tell me exactly when something is good, bad, or outright exhausting me out to the point of my house burning down…I would not only master it, but honor it. I would never compromise myself like that again.

Almost four years later I’m here to report my success; about feeling joy and prioritizing myself, my worth, my health and my energy to the point of being able to give and serve from a badass overflow that seems limitless. When I prioritized my own joy despite the world’s constant cries for attention and criticism, my own world opened up to me in ways I’d only dreamt of beforehand.

My chest pain disappeared too. People started to comment, “What are you doing to have that much energy?”

“I prioritize my own joy,” became my answer. I say it with conviction now. With knowing. With a grin. With enthusiasm that feels contagious.

I’m grateful I chose a healing profession that gave me tools to feel. Because feeling and awareness is what it takes to recognize we always have a choice. There are moments it feels so bad, so confusing, so impossible, that we sit in uncertainty, paralyzed while we’re smelling the smoke. We already know what to do. It just feels too scary to do it. So we suffocate.

If I’d really understood some of the warning signs early on I may not have waited to say the words I knew I needed to say. There’s no regret in me today, only experience and gratitude. And a fierce desire to practice the awareness it takes to live joyfully; to live the life I always knew was possible.

Here are a few warning signs you may be feeling:

  1. More of your days are spent worrying, fearful, uncertain, doubtful, sad or depressed than joyful. Start paying attention.
  2. You’re feeling tightness, fatigue, pain, or dysfunction in your body that you may have ignored up until now. Start paying attention.
  3. Whatever it is, your partner, your job, your path…it’s feeling more lacking than not, more bad than good, less supportive, loving, energizing, or kind than you know you deserve. Start paying attention.

The thing about fear and doing the thing we know we need to do? It is so much worse to sit around with the thoughts, than to take action and move through it. You’ll feel better so much faster if you realize the answer is to take action while you’re feeling all those things. You will not get the courage, confidence or mojo you’re hoping for first. It’s the action that will help you feel brave, confident and powerful.

You got this. And get ready to experience a level of freedom, health, wellness and energy you never thought you could feel, with a limitless intensity that seem alien. Your joy is waiting for you to do something about that smoke you smell. And she’s going to throw you a party when you get off your ass and put out that fire.

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