One Woman’s Story on How to Move on From Life’s Dreadful Plot Twists
On a warm September day, I arrived home to discover divorce papers taped to my front door. It was official, my marriage was going to fail, and I wasn’t sure I could figure out how to unlock the front door, let alone keep breathing once I’d stepped inside. I’d gone to a yoga class, and in my absence, I’d been served. Peeling the tape away from the door and seeing what the papers contained, I felt both fear and shame. What if the neighbors had seen? Could I just pretend I hadn’t received the papers since I hadn’t signed for them? How could I stop this?
Just as my marriage was ending, my career was heading towards a peak. Would you believe just 48-hours later I was scheduled to step on a global stage to deliver my first TEDx talk? Looking back, that September day was both the worst and the best day of my life. You can probably imagine why it felt like the worst day, but now in retrospect, how did it also become the best? Because that day was the day I started talking to myself about who I would become.
But first, I talked to my mom. Actually, my mom talked to me in my head. I heard her voice repeating something she’d often said to me in life, “Things will look better in the morning, sweetie.” I laughed a little inside as I thought about the divorce papers in my hand and felt pretty confident Mom was going to be wrong this time. But, instead of jumping into action, I forced myself to put what was happening out of my mind and went to bed early with the insane hope I’d wake up and find those papers had been a bad dream.
When I woke up in the morning, the papers were still real, and I didn’t feel any less upset. However, what I realized over my morning cup of tea was this: What I decided to do that day would define me for the rest of my life. I had the option to either crawl under the covers and cry until I evaporated or ask for support from my family and friends so they could send me the strength I needed in order to be able to straighten my skirt and get on the TEDx stage, wounded heart and all.
I chose the second option, and I have never looked back. Today, I wish I could go back in time to applaud the girl who made that decision and hug her tight. She was heartbroken and vulnerable, but she was so brave, and I am so darn proud of her! Some of my favorite photos of me were taken when I delivered my talk two days later, and they will always be favorites because I am glowing. I’m not glowing because I was happy, I’m glowing because I was powerful.
After I delivered my talk and came down from the high of making a powerful decision and having so many people rise up in support of me, I had to start dealing with the reality of the legal stuff that goes along with divorce and I started to grieve my losses. The future I thought I’d have, the blood, sweat, and tears I’d poured for years into a marriage I couldn’t save, the roles of wife, lover, and friend.
One of the biggest days of grieving for me that year was September 22; my husband’s 40th birthday. A milestone birthday I had looked forward to us celebrating together since we first met in college.
That morning, I woke up bright and early and immediately remembered what day it was. I felt so empty as I headed downstairs to make myself my cup of tea. Later that day, after showering and opening the windows to let some fresh air in and the heaviness of grief out, I found myself walking by the full-length mirror in my bedroom. I noticed I’d lost weight. At that time, I remember it took me three days to eat a single chicken breast and maybe a green bean or two. However, it wasn’t how my body looked that day that drew my attention. It was what was peeking out at me from behind my own eyes. There was a sparkle there, which moved me to walk towards the mirror and take a closer look.
As I stood before the mirror, gazing into my own eyes, words of love suddenly started to pour from my mouth. Like a crazy person, I was talking to myself out loud! To anyone walking by the window, I would have appeared completely unhinged. When the words stopped, I thought to myself how much I wanted to remember this day and those loving words because I knew there were going to be days ahead when I would feel like there was no love in my life. I wanted to remember that even if no one ever loved me again, at that moment I had loved myself fully and completely.
I went downstairs to where my laptop was set up on the kitchen island and opened Facebook. I decided to write down what I’d said to myself in the form of a “note to self” post, so that each year on that day I’d get a reminder in my memories of these loving words. Friends responded with love and enthusiasm for what I’d written, and one even asked if she could print my words and tape them to her bathroom mirror. I loved the way it felt knowing my words made others happy, so I decided to write another “note to self” the next day. The positive feedback kept coming and it felt so good to be reminded that I was appreciated. After months of writing a daily note, it dawned on me that if I wrote one each day for a year, I’d have enough to publish a book!
Talking about what I was going through publicly through these notes was a big help in my healing process. If life as you know it falls apart, you’ll probably find yourself feeling some difficult things and asking some hard questions. It’s best not to be stuck in your head figuring it all out alone. The hardest question I found myself asking during the process of grief was, “Do I want to die?”
I wasn’t suicidal, rather, I knew that intense grief was the sort of thing that causes people to question whether they can or even want to keep going, so I asked myself. I’m glad I did because the answer that came back was that I didn’t want to die. What I did want was to stage an epic comeback!
I didn’t know exactly what that would mean at the moment, but it has come to mean having conversations with others about loss, mistakes, and triumphs. It has come to mean becoming a professional speaker and popular podcast guest, providing women around the country with a mentor as they learn the ropes of entrepreneurship and personal branding through my 10-minute mentorship, hosting “The Suddenly Single Show,” the inspirational podcast for people who find themselves suddenly single. It has also come to mean learning to live life without a partner, making new friends, preparing for my second TEDx talk, and sharing the whole grand adventure with people I love from any microphone, camera, stage, or computer I can get access to.
My epic comeback meant taking the pieces of my life and putting them back together in a way that made me happy and left me lots of room to grow. I’m still growing and I haven’t figured it all out yet (not even close), but I’m doing my best and I’m certain the life I’ve already lived the past few years on my own is far happier and more fulfilling than the life I lived before my life fell apart. For that, I am grateful.
The details of my story may be unique to me, but experiencing a plot twist in life isn’t. We all experience loss and every loss creates a space for us to explore who we are now and what’s next for us. I can’t think of a better way to figure that out than writing a loving and encouraging note to yourself each day. One heartbreaking loss, one incredible opportunity to grow.
Just because I was writing myself an encouraging note each day, doesn’t mean every day felt like a good day. Sometimes the day was so hard the best encouragement I could come up with was something like, “There’s always tomorrow.” At the time I didn’t know it, but writing to myself like this really helped me process my grief. If you read my book, which contains the complete collection of beautifully designed notes, you’ll be able to trace the outline of my daily emotional journey through loss and emptiness to determination, strength, and hope. “Dear Self, I Love You! Keep Going!” is available on Amazon.