The (Almost) Daily Dose: The Worst Year of My Life, Part I
How I found a point to the pain and a promise to come out stronger on the other end
You are probably wondering how something with the above title can fall under the Good News column. Patience, my friends, I will get you there. But first, the story.
At the age of 42, my marriage crumbled, I behaved badly and my wonderful mom began to lose pieces of her brilliant mind. It was a mountain of crap, a perfect shit storm. I didn’t cry a river, I cried three (the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio of my Pittsburgh roots). The levee did not hold. I was barely eating, barely sleeping and my nerve endings were so exposed they hurt. Even music, normally something that makes me happy, felt like too much for my system.
In the midst of this, I was searching for a new place to live. I kept my search to a radius within a mile of my soon-to-be ex-husband so that there would be less stress on our girls. I bought a sunny, little house on a corner lot near Old Town Louisville. The previous owner was a single mother who I knew cordially and when I explained what was going on she told me that she had been through much the same. “IT WAS THE WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE,” she said, “AND I WOULDN’T TRADE IT FOR ANYTHING.”
That moment deserved a drumroll. It was actual music to my heart. There was a point to the pain and there was a promise to come out stronger/better/wiser on the other end. Actually, all of the above.
Growth and strength do not, as a rule, come from comfortable situations. So, I put one size-7 foot in front of the other, started taking medication, wrote a gratitude list to my friend Judy every morning, got my work done and just focused on being there for my girls. We watched, almost daily, sometimes multiple episodes of The Gilmore Girls. We ate stale Jujyfruits. I read them Lemony Snicket books aloud. We sat in front of the fire. The days seemed long but they started to get easier. I didn’t speak to a man I wasn’t related to for a year. I focused on all of the love I had in my life.
Jennifer called repeatedly, Liz dropped off cookies, my cousin Billy sent me books and brother Muzz sent compilation tapes. Alison sent a magnet of a Winston Churchill quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep going…,” that was placed front and center on the fridge. (One newly divorced friend even sent me a pleasure device which I was scared to take out of the box). I called my mom everyday and even though the conversations were often one-sided, it was my way of reaching through the miles. On days she laughed, my heart was happy.
And suddenly, much like that day in Spring when you realize everything is blooming, a year had gone by. I woke up and smiled at the sun. I felt truly thankful for the day, for being alive and healthy and for a million other things I came to appreciate simply by paying attention.
I realized, from the depth of my soul, a very important truth: My love cup runneth over. I just woke up to it in a way that let me know, no matter what happened going forward, I was fine just exactly where I was. I needed no man to save me or care for me or even confirm that I was an attractive human. I had done all of that for myself. It’s difficult to describe the power that feeling brings. The strength of coming through a place of such pain to a place of I-don’t-know-what -happens-next-but-I’ll-be-fine.
I also knew I never wanted to revisit that ledge. And the knowledge of that keeps me working hard at the positive. I am so lucky. Even on the bad days, I know beyond doubt, I am so lucky. That terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year enabled me to face whatever comes with a well-earned equanimity. And so I say, as if I earned a graduate degree in self implosion, “IT WAS THE WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE, AND I WOULDN’T TRADE IT FOR ANYTHING.”