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Nearly six years after suffering an extreme loss, I have to smile knowing that things are better than I ever thought they could be. It wasn’t a death that left me in this deep depression, unsure if I could live another day, it was losing the man I loved, the man I knew I would grow old with, to my best friend, whose family I knew and loved, who I vacationed with, and whose children I babysat and potty trained. It was the experience of losing my closest people that turned my life topsy-turvy. But today I am living my life to the fullest, enjoying each day, and to be honest, I rarely think of the man who I once felt had brought my world crumbling down.

a pair of wedding ring, broken heart with bandage

I met Luke at 18, and was instantly hooked: his huge dimples, wide smile and contagious laugh were enough to make any girl swoon. He was tall, slender, with tan skin, chocolate brown eyes: definition of handsome… Growing up in a small town, I couldn’t believe that this handsome boy wanted me! We moved in together weeks after meeting. Within a few short months, I was pregnant and engaged soon after. Close to four months after meeting him, I was nineteen, married and round with child.

Seven months after our wedding we welcomed a perfect boy into our family; it was the scariest moment of my life, but I knew with Luke, we would make it work. We were kids, and neither of us had a college degree, so we were poor, but we always found a way to make ends meet. We were happy, we had our own family, and I felt like I knew what my purpose in life was.

I wasn’t the world’s best wife or mother, but I worked hard, and always tried my best. We had struggles just like every other family: money, jobs, and the hardest one, after Luke turned 21: his love of beer and whiskey. Luke developing an alcohol dependency. Within a few years it became the focal point of all our disagreements. I endlessly forgave the things he did while drinking: abuse both physical and verbal. I read countless books on how to cope, how to support, and how to live with an alcoholic. It seemed a small price to pay to keep our family together. I wanted my son to grow up in a family that was whole, and I just knew at some point that Luke would come to his senses and give up the drinking. I was a classic enabler. I just wanted things to be like they were at the beginning.

2 woman and a man acting a betrayal by holding the other woman's hand while facing his partner

12 years after we married, I walked in on Luke with my best friend; they had been drinking. It was a defining moment for me. I could deal with a lot of things, but infidelity seemed so foreign and for it to occur with a woman who I thought of as sister-like… I honestly didn’t know if what I saw was real. I have never been so unwilling to accept a reality in my life. I stood there paralyzed, for what felt like hours, like my soul had been ripped from my chest. I wrapped my arms around myself so I could hold in whatever remained. It was easily the deepest emotional pain I have, and hopefully will, ever experience.. I kept asking myself, “How could they do this? Why would they do this? What did I do to make them do this?” I ran from the house screaming and crying, not caring who heard me. I just wanted to escape from my own skin. I ran to my younger sister’s’ house and just sobbed. I laid there all night, tears streaming, trapped in the image of the most nightmarish scene, on repeat.

He must’ve called twenty times: drunken messages and texts filling up my phone. Excuses, and I didn’t want to see or hear them. I didn’t know if I could leave him; I loved him and we had worked through so much. I had invested all of my adult life in this man. But the vision of him embracing someone else tainted everything I had loved. Having reached the limit of forgiveness, I knew I was done. The next day I took our son and drove off. We were welcomed into my dad’s home where there was an extra room for us to stay.

I wanted to die. There wasn’t a minute that went by in the first few weeks, months even, where my mind didn’t play out a way of killing myself. I imagined using one of my guns, hanging myself, jumping off a bridge, overdosing on pills. Some days I just hoped that somehow I would just stop breathing. I could not see a future without Luke.

The guilt stopped me of course; I couldn’t imagine the impact finding me dead would have on someone, especially a family member or my son. And I couldn’t leave my son alone with Luke . It was the only thread I clung to during those dark days.

My son was confused, but good spirited and far more resilient than I was. He was excited to play video games with his grandpa and to be somewhere with lots of space. I was more like a wounded animal incapable of doing simple tasks. My dad noticed my posture, the way I looked at the ground when I walked, not a fraction of the person I had been, lifeless. He would make me go outside, telling me I couldn’t lay in bed any longer, and that I needed to join, “the real world.” He had me walk around his property, introduced me to his neighbors and friends, took me to birthday parties of people I didn’t know. My dad knew what I was feeling and that he needed to help me. I will forever be grateful to him for taking me in, and pushing me to get out.

I remember the day I decided things needed to change, a couple months after I had left. I made the decision to be happy. Of course, it wasn’t instantaneous, but necessary. I decided I needed to change my negative outlook, to be mentally present for my son, and provide as much normalcy as I could muster. I remembered an article I had once read that said that you should pick ten things everyday to be grateful for, and it can help shift your attitude. I decided to incorporate this exercise on a regular basis. When I would start to think about how my life was ruined, how Luke was selfish, or how I no longer had my family, I would stop myself, and pick ten things I was grateful for.

Such as:
I am so grateful my dad took me in and that he has a nice home to share.
I am grateful I have a good job with insurance so that I can provide for myself and my son.
I am grateful that I have sisters who are supportive.
I am grateful that my son is with me and is okay in his environment.
I am grateful that I woke up this morning and I have my health.

Sometimes it was small things I was grateful for and sometimes large. This was at times the only thing that helped me to overcome the dark thinking.

At some point, I started to feel happy-ish again. I still walked around with my arms holding my chest, but I was walking around, “going through the motions”, and interacting with people. I was healing.

After a while, I started to hang out with my dad in the woodshop, a place where he found his solitude. My earliest memories of him are in his shop, accompanied by the smell of sawdust and stain. My dad turned bowls on lathes; it was hypnotic to watch. I would see him take a piece of what looked like firewood and turn it into a beautiful golden bowl that almost glowed as curly patterns appeared with the oiling of the bowl. His work is stunning, and I knew I wanted to try. I asked if he would teach me, and he did. I learned to turn: bowls, gavels, vases, and my favorite: pens, I must have turned hundreds of pens. Then I started making knives, cutting boards, small boxes and shelves. I loved it. I bought my own lathe and some of my own tools and started treasure hunting for exotic woods. I would give friends and family my wooden gifts. They didn’t know that these small treasures kept my mind focused and free of the darkness that had once consumed me; these small gifts were symbolic.

I started to feel like a new person.. I became a woman who could do things, who created, independent. I became the type of woman I had always envied. For the first time in my adult life, I found and tried something that was for me and no one else. It gave me hope that I could overcome this bereavement, survive the emotional turmoil that my life had become. I found hope. I started thinking of all the different things I wanted to try and places I wanted to go. I took anything and everything I could think of or wanted to accomplish and I poured it onto paper. I purposely chose items I could do easily, and some that would take me some time and money. Some of the things were simple: hike a trail that leads to a waterfall, run a race, go to a professional football game and tailgate, hangout with my high school friends, eat a bug (yes… I did this, they were coated in chocolate), teach my son to wood work. Some goals were harder: climb Kilimanjaro, visit Rome, learn a second language.

I had never participated in a race, so I started running every day, I competed in some 5k’s and was almost always close to last. But I didn’t care; I was proud of myself and I enjoyed it. I was doing things! I reconnected with my friends from school, and got to know them as adults. I started going to football games and meeting people and just learned to be okay being a single woman. I have a travel account and I am saving so that I can accomplish some of my larger goals.

Learning to be alone was the biggest obstacle for me, but it was essential. When I discovered that I had gotten to the point where I could be in my own head and it wasn’t the dark place it once was, I actually liked the person I had become. I discovered that I actually love myself. I can barely remember the person I was during my married life. I realized now, that I am whole, that I wasn’t whole or happy in my marriage, I was comfortable and complacent. I didn’t love myself as a partner to Luke, I loved the idea of comfort and maintaining that comfort. It was a toxic marriage that I’d invested in strictly to avoid change. Accepting change was the most amazing thing in my life.