Putting Heartache in its Place

Surely the road was leading me where I intended to go – because that’s what I wanted and that’s what roads do. Defying reason, I drove hastily forward and the more I did the more bogged in muck the car got and the faster I drove …

It’s been three years. A long, rough & tough three years. Most days were spent eager for a time when it would dawn on me that I wasn’t living in daily, torturous regret and anger. I knew the time would come eventually. Past experience taught me that. I waited. Every day that passed the same as the one before it, each feeling so uneventful, I clung desperately to the hope that I had a cause to hope the future would be better.

We all have visions of what we expect of our lives. When we’re younger we make the assumption that all we have to do is head ourselves in that direction and somehow it’ll fall into place. We don’t account for the bumps in the road or, better said in my case, the road itself being one that’s still under construction.

pondfrogWhen I was much younger I was in a hurry to find an address. It was at night and I wasn’t familiar with the small town’s roads. I darted down one street then another, trying to make up for lost time. One turn landed me on an unusually dark and muddy road, but in my haste to get to my destination I didn’t stop to make sense of it. Surely the road was leading me where I intended to go – because that’s what I wanted and that’s what roads do. Defying reason, I drove hastily forward and the more I did the more bogged in muck the car got and the faster I drove to push through it. I ended up stuck in a shallow pond at the end of a barren road that was “still under construction.”

That aptly exemplifies my life’s last three years. Coming out of divorce from a lifetime with a miserably mean narcissist, at first I drove myself frantically forward, determined to reach a personal destination that I knew I needed to find but was ill-equipped to navigate. I wanted it so badly I dismissed all reasoning. That first year was full of wrong turns and least-expected bog downs of a most painful kind. I had to get it right this time or I was destined lost in the muck of anger and bitterness for the rest of my days and there aren’t that many of them left now. I didn’t want that, as much as what I did want.

The easiest way to get past this kind of pain is to replace bad memories with new ones, usually finding another loving companion who comforts you – or so you think. I wasn’t about to make that hasty mistake again. So this was something I had to do on my own. It would take longer, but that was the only way I could ensure the result.

For a long time, I marinated myself in videos and reading everything I could find that identified what I’d gone through … exactly what my pain was and what had caused it; how I was accountable for enabling it and what I had to do to not fall victim again. I didn’t indulge any entertainment that brought dark feelings back to mind and sometimes that meant sitting hours in total silence. I went to  counseling. When I’d absorbed so much information that all the information did was remind me of its pain – I stopped. I worked to change how I interacted in the world, including accepting my own quirks with grace, which is a lot harder than it sounds. That will always be a work in progress.

Most importantly, I made a point of reminding myself of the robust blessings I did have instead of the losses I’d suffered, made easier by listening to others’ struggles much worse than my own. Then I began to feel grateful again, rather then self-pitying. Fearing I’d lost natural empathy to a deep-seeded anger, as if in slow motion my love and compassion for others came back to life like a spring’s new tree buds. It was freeing and delicious.

Along the way, I slowed down. I shook off the extra baggage of daily routines that I’d done simply to keep someone else happy. That’s more difficult than you think, by the time you’re my age. Though almost too slight to notice in the scheme of things, it was a pleasure to gradually redefine myself. Then I added little enjoyments to my life that, from merely having been denied them, were once unthinkable. Things I knew I could change without shaking my world to its core. And I rid myself of things (including toxic people) that served only to waylay and hinder healing. That was the hardest part.

All of those changes, slight as they may have been over the course of days that made up years, culminated into a meaningful motivation to enjoy the journey to wherever it was I was headed, rather than forcing my way down a one-way street that just wasn’t working.

It was okay to not know the route, as long as I took time to evaluate the one I was on one step at a time. I started forcing myself to follow my gut instincts, one of the biggest shortcomings that led to all of my pain. I allowed myself days, even weeks, to make decisions that, through others’ expectations, I used to pressure myself to make on the spot. My decisions were becoming good ones for a change.

Then I worked on forgiving myself and loved ones (disqualifying the ex) who’d gravely wronged me simply because I was vulnerable. I allowed myself to accept that I was most angry at myself for allowing it and I owned that. I identified their weaknesses as the sad part of life they are and they owned those. I wouldn’t forget the lessons and some of the people I love are still not a part of my life … but the important thing is, I am not living in anger or bitterness. I love them – it’s just from a distance now. That’s how it has to be.

I ran scenarios through my mind how I would react if I saw one of those estranged loved ones again – people who had so badly hurt me I thought I could not recover from the pain. I hadn’t seen them in what was becoming years now. I practiced visualizing, being as I would want to be with them were there not those obstacles, how I feel about them in my heart. My forgiveness was put to the test. One approached me when least expected out shopping. Because I’d practiced living that opportunity, it took no time for me to extend a sincere hug and lighthearted chat. That felt good. I liked me for doing that. I didn’t care what they thought and I didn’t expect anything in return. I did it for me.

All of these baby steps day by day helped me recover and to like myself again. For the first time in too long, I’ve noticed that all of those dreaded, tormenting regrets and the anger they caused do not haunt me anymore. When something does jar a flash of old memories, now it is such a vague recollection I can’t even remember its circumstances (nor did I try).

I have arrived. Thank You, God, for the recovery. I am so grateful for it.

I hoped sharing this tedious journey might offer encouragement to others struggling with their own pain. There is an end. There can be happiness again. Life may never feel the same, but that’s okay and, in cases like mine, it’s preferable. The better we can understand something, the sooner we will come to terms with it.


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