Have you ever had a moment when the world seemed to drop out from under you? I recently had one of those moments, and it threw me back 27 years – to the night I learned my fiancé was cheating on me. I remember him saying to me, “don’t come home” but I was young and determined to face it full on. I drove like a bat out of hell out from San Francisco to our home, 30 miles away, only to be pushed out the front door like some trespasser, while the other woman stayed.
I thought I was healed from that night. It was 27 years ago, after all, and I’ve done so much personal work since then.
But last week I realized how suddenly you can go right back to the pain and self-loathing.
At that time in my life I was young, comfortable, and confident with my life and my relationship. I was college educated and had a great job. I was working hard and thought that everything was fine. The clues were there all along, of course, but I chose not to give them the time of day. The one time that I did raise the question, I was told I would be an excellent writer because I “had such a good imagination.” Was I imagining the bottle of Lancôme men’s cologne that showed up mysteriously in my bathroom? The vitamins, the protein powder, the Andre Agassi haircuts (yuck) or the Bowflex exercise equipment that showed up in the living room? The anti-aging cream – he was 10 years older than me – should have been the final straw, but I had no clue. Or did I?
I remember the humiliating drive away from my house that night in June 1990. I wasn’t thinking about how terrible my fiancé was – instead I was consumed with thoughts of what I had done wrong to cause this. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you! Unfortunately, after dealing with the illness of my father and his death a few months before, I had not been taking care of myself so I jumped straight to my go-to line: “I’m not good enough.” Perhaps it was the 10-15 pounds I had put on; maybe I shouldn’t have taken that super cool job in San Francisco with the long commute… My anguish released old voices of cruel kids in the playground, calling me “fatso” when I was 10, and an old record started to play: Being thin – that was it! When I was thin (I thought) I became more desirable, so I spent the next 6 months starving, purging, and hating myself, thinking the only way back was to regain some imaginary standard of physical beauty.
For a year, I blamed myself, beat myself up, and was desperate to win him back. At no point during this year of self-sabotage and sadness did I ever contemplate that my fiancé was a total jerk, a functional alcoholic, and a cheater. Not one day, not one moment, did I ever blame him. I even quit my job in San Francisco to take a job closer to him so we could work it out. He told me I was “not fun anymore” and I probably wasn’t. I was certainly no longer the 22-year-old ski instructor without a care in the world who had fallen for him. I thought if I could find a job closer to home I’d have time to do all those things that would make me fun again, and he’d take me back. Unfortunately, taking that job also meant a 50% salary cut, and I ended up not only NOT being fun again, but having to call my mom for financial assistance.
It was a horrible year. I was very good at beating myself up, thinking my fiancé’s cruelty and life’s general suckiness was all my fault. I was miserable, hungry, and sad. Unfortunately, at that time I had not yet healed from my own childhood demons and the whole situation was a huge wakeup call: the universe was giving me a spectacular opportunity to work it out.
And then one day I had a bright idea to become a nurse. I had no idea how I was going to pull it off – I actually hated hospitals, but I was drawn in some mysterious way to this healing path. Perhaps my experience with my father’s illness for many years spoke to me, or maybe it was just divine guidance, but I started on a new chapter. That job I had taken to be close to home may have broken me financially but it did allow me flexible hours so I could go back to school, and I was damn determined.
The deeper I dug into taking care of myself and making something more of myself, the more I woke up. I lost interest in the cheating boyfriend and became a force for myself; I was hell bent on making this shift! My daily mantra was that I could do this; I was capable and able. I was so focused on my new path that when a gift from my ex – a brand new set of super cool skis – ended up at my front door the next Spring, I just took them and did not pay him any attention.
There were a few times that he did pop back on my radar screen that year but I was finally starting to comprehend that I was worth more. The day my 30-year-old nursing student self was assigned to care for a young man in the ICU with liver failure from alcoholism was when I finally realized the gift in all of this. I saw what could have been my life if I had continued to self-sabotage and try to fix that hopelessly broken relationship. The light switch went on and I saw myself in a new light: worth way more than taking care of an alcoholic husband in the prime of my life! Looking back, I often wonder the whole situation was a divine intervention courtesy of my beloved father. Whoever, and whatever – I was not going back, ever! I moved forward into my nursing career and a strong marriage with a wonderful man.
Fast forward 27 years to last week, then, when I found a selfie picture of my husband with a lady. When I brought it up with him, he reassured me that he is not cheating but did say he was “flattered by” the woman’s attention. Boom bam, that’s all it took! There I sat on our bed, with my heart on the floor, transported back to my insecure, betrayed, 27-year-old self.
This was wakeup call number 2. I thought I had worked it all out a long time ago but this made me realize I still have work to do. You see, I have spent the last 3 years of my life building a new career and another business in Equine Gestalt Coaching. I had been consumed by balancing work and study, and had not been taking full care of myself or my husband. I have not been present – first, and most important to myself, but secondly to my marriage. This time my self-esteem – and my relationship – is much stronger and able to bear the impact of this.
I realize that, in my focus on my nursing work, gaining certification and launching a new career, and taking care of my 83-year-old mother, I had forgotten to prioritize my marriage and my own self-care. This is interesting to me since self-care and nurture is why I was called to create Art Soul and Horses in the first place.
But thanks to the selfie that shocked me into awareness, I’m realizing that I don’t need to beat myself up – I simply need to acknowledge the reality: I had a lot on my plate and I didn’t realize the competing priorities were as damaging as they were. That doesn’t make me unworthy. That doesn’t make me unlovable. I am worthy! The difference this time is that I can heed the wakeup call for what it is: a simple reminder to nurture myself and what is important to me. This time I do have a good man, not a jerk – and I am a powerful, capable and attractive 55-year-old woman, not an insecure 22-year-old with demons.
So, there you have it…. we are all on a journey here. Even people who you think are living balanced, perfect lives have moment of devastation. What matters is that we can overcome anything that we are presented with, if we are aware of our past pain, can see it for what it is, and can modify our current responses as a result. As my beloved mentor Melisa Pearce says, “The process of Gestalt teaches us to become whole again”. We need to face our pain and our stories must be brought back into the light. It is in the awareness we become whole again.
For myself, becoming whole again means to love myself and to be the best me possible. I love my husband dearly and I am committed to nurturing our marriage through creating more work/home life balance. More importantly, I love myself and I am going to take care of myself in beautiful ways. THANK YOU you to the universe for this wakeup call – to show up for myself in more loving ways, and for the wonderful man I have been married to for 17 years.
Take care of yourself more – that is the beginning, the reconnection. Dance, play, go for more walks, plan adventures, be open, be flexible and be true to your own heart. It will serve you well and those around you will feel it too.
In love and peace~ Vivian