This is not a very easy or comfortable story to tell but I know we’ve been quiet around here so I wanted to tell you why.
Earlier this year, I faced the biggest challenge of my life when my husband suddenly announced he was leaving.
It was completely out of the blue for me. I never saw it coming.
When I was a young woman I spent time yo-yoing from relationship to relationship. I was a serial dater who loved nothing more than the thrill of the chase and the challenge of hooking a fella. I would quickly move on once I got bored. I dated all types: artists, musicians, architects, losers, engineers, nice guys, sexy guys, greenies, bouncers and boring guys.
I was incompatible with most of them because I didn’t set any standards and was frankly, happy to be with anyone who liked me. Underlying all of this of course was insecurity, a need to be loved, fear of being alone and all that blah-blah. All the stuff that most of us deal with when we are in our 20s and finding our way in the world.
But when I met my husband 16 years ago, I knew I had met the man I would marry and be with forever. He was charming and hilarious, and we couldn’t stop laughing and talking – we instantly became besties. And he was secure and had a stable job! When you’re 30 and hooking up with a potentially permanent mate, their ability to pay a mortgage can be as attractive as sexy butt. And, ahem, obviously I hadn’t really grown out of the fear of being alone thing.
From there we went on to marry, buy a home, have two beautiful boys and do all the stuff that you do. I loved all of it, I felt secure and stable. It made me feel like I was achieving something great. We made a wonderful family and created a gorgeous home. Everything was bloody lovely. We were the couple that were best friends, a really great team. We had a great circle of mates and entertained and had parties. We laughed and had great times together. We went on date nights and weekends away. People told me they wanted a relationship like ours.
I would talk to my friends about how amazing and kind my husband was and how lucky we were to have each other as we were a great partnership. I really appreciated that he was so caring and dedicated. I knew I couldn’t possibly live without him. We each contributed equally, but he took charge of a lot of things on the home front. And he was a wonderful hands-on dad.
But all that awesomeness also caused me to doubt my own parenting, because he was always doing such great job. I convinced myself I was slightly crap in comparison. I had worked on myself for years through self-help and therapy, so I knew myself well and I had pretty healthy self-esteem and confidence in many areas of my life. I had tight relationships, a good job, a fulfilling business in Champagne Cartel, I was fit and healthy and I had energy and drive to make things happen, I worked very hard and pushed us to achieve family goals for our kids’ futures and I was loyal and loving. But when it came to day-to-day household management and being a mum, I wasn’t so sure of myself. I never really felt in charge in these aspects of my life and I was happy for my husband to be good at it as he loved doing it. And we can’t all be good at everything, right?
But one of my greatest fears was that I would be alone and have to deal with all the things. I would look at single mums or women whose husbands worked away from home and be absolutely in awe of them. I knew I could NEVER do what they did. I felt I just wasn’t capable.
What happened next was that my big fear came along, said good morning and then gave me an upper cut to the noggin…
My husband got up one day and left.
It was incomprehensible to me – something I never could have imagined. There was no warning and no explanation except that he said he realised he simply didn’t love me any more.
WHAT THE ACTUAL EFF?! I believed we were happy and that without a doubt we would be together forever, so I literally couldn’t believe it.
What ensued was a period of deep, dark crisis. I walked around like a zombie, in complete disbelief. When I wasn’t completely numb, I was suffering anxiety attacks which caused me to stay awake (and when I say stay awake, I mean literally for days).
I went into survival mode, focusing on just getting through each day, one step at a time, going to work and looking after the kids and trying hard to make life as normal as possible for them. I was surrounded by helpers a lot of the time, propped up by my wonderful family, my BFF Carolyn (who went through the end of her marriage last year too), my neighbours, old school friends, school mums, my workmates and a bunch of other wonderful women who texted, phoned and delivered food and flowers.
I did all the “right” stuff, from meditating to seeing a psychologist, visiting my doctor, talking to friends, reading books, walking in the bush, doing yoga and setting intentions. But nothing could stop the ugly arrow of rejection which would slide nastily into me a few times a day causing me to sharply inhale from the pain; or the brutal agony as my heart felt like it was slowly tearing into ragged chunks and blood was seeping out of my chest.
When I did sleep, I was still in flight or fight so I would wake up at 2am and remember what had happened, and the thoughts would rush like a train coming at me full pelt as I relived the agony and worried endlessly for the children. There were times when I felt like my grief was a heavy blanket and under it I felt pain on all my limbs and I was slowly suffocating.
One of my girlfriends sent me flowers with a card that said, “The only way is through,” which is beautiful and unfortunately true.
But then the craziest thing started happening. It was only early days but there was a faint glimmer of joy when I realised I actually enjoyed my day-to-day life without my husband’s loaded presence. I took pleasure in realising I am not shit at household stuff. I started to feel pride when I realised I’m most definitely not shit at parenting. I had spent years seeing myself through my husband’s gaze but now I could see things with fresh eyes. I had changed a lot over 16 years and I was a VERY different woman from the girl I was back when we got together. I didn’t ask for this crap to happen but the upshot is that being alone was starting to feel like a nice new coat that fitted well and looked good on me.
A few months on, I can see that I’ve been set free and I am enjoying the feeling of independence of doing things my way. The house is relatively clean, the dishes are washed every night. I can always find a matching sock (apparently washing is my super power). I buy the toilet paper I want, and I know where to find everything. We went to New Zealand on a family holiday and I didn’t perish from exhaustion or lose a boy off a ski lift.
I now have my own Spotify account that isn’t filled with heaps of hideous easy listening and bad country music. The boys and I laugh, go bike riding and have lounge room dance parties. We get out the door on time, meals are cooked (although sometimes it’s breakfast for dinner) and they are as happy and settled as they can be under the circumstances. And of course they still bicker constantly and pretend to ignore me when I tell them to turn off their iPads, which makes me cranky. It’s the new normal. But now I have space to breathe and be me.
My psychologist has given me a mantra that she believes sums up how I feel right now, “Now I get to live the way I want to live” which in the current situation is empowering.
I’m not saying I’m super terrific 100% – far from it. I panic about how this will change the kids and I have some days where I am scared of stuff. But at least I have lots of good days now.
I believed I COULD NOT live without my husband. It turns out I CAN live without him. From a place of the greatest fear, I have emerged into a place where I realise I am capable. And resilient. And WOAH, if I am capable of THIS, I can bloody well pretty much do anything! That’s wild, man. Somehow I am able to stand neck deep in the shittiest point of my life, but look out with hope and realise that one day I am not just going to be okay, I am going to be great.
It’s early days but each day the feeling of relief of being alone grows stronger.
I always knew our relationship wasn’t perfect and now I can clearly see what was wrong, but at the time I made the best of it because there I believed that marriage was forever, no matter what. But now I’ve been presented with a chance at a fresh start.
The thing is that in life there are not that many opportunities to be completely reborn without extreme trauma such as illness or death. This is a relatively gentle (okay, it’s still traumatic but could be a lot worse) way to become a new person.
I get to grow because I’m facing shitty stuff and it’s from spending times in these dark caves of grief and difficulty that you become greater. Plus, you learn to appreciate what you have: your children, your family, the people that throw their loving arms around you, the smell of nature, the ability to exercise your body, laughter, the taste of champagne (!). These are the important things.
Out of this I have two things to tell you:
- If you are going through this, I am so so so sorry. It sucks. But please know that you WILL be okay. I promise. I’m getting better every day.
- If you can face your greatest fear, you can do anything. Take a few minutes to think of what you would do if anything is possible.
I’d love to hear your story. Have you faced adversity and come out the other side stronger and better?