This is really hard for me to say out loud. I think that is why you haven’t heard from me for so long. Writing about cancer and chemo and community – well that was easy. You all listened to my heart and rallied around me and carried me through one of the toughest times of my life. You called me courageous and brave and warrior. And during that battle I felt so known and loved and cared for. What I didn’t know was that cancer would not be my toughest battle. My toughest battle would not be a diagnosable disease with a carefully mapped out treatment plan. My toughest battle would not be won with doctors and needles and medicine. Instead, my toughest battle would be fought in the cracks and crevices of my breaking heart, with no clear prognosis or prescription for healing.
May 24, 2017 my husband and I separated after 18 years of marriage. Through all the hard I have experienced in my life, nothing prepared me for the despair and trauma and pain that I was about to walk through. My entire identity had been slowly and gently braided together with his. I did not know who I was apart from being a wife and mother. I had given up a career that I loved, to spend my days caring for my children and home, which I also loved. We both played our roles, he as the provider and me the caregiver. I was completely dependent on him financially. I was completely dependent on him emotionally. My happiness and unhappiness were inextricably linked to his.
After we separated I spent months living in a place of fear and despair. I felt completely lost. I replayed the past trying to find the detours and danger signs. I spent days curled up in a ball, crying and screaming until my eyes were swollen shut and my voice a whisper. I could not see a clear path through to the other side of the pain and I became obsessed with the cracked and broken path behind me. For months I was dominated by my fear and anger. I wasn’t just losing my marriage but I was losing myself. I was losing my identity as a wife and stay at home mom. I was losing my dream of family vacations on the beach and decorating our Christmas tree together and dinners around the table. I was losing the safety of being provided for. I was losing the intact two-parent home that I had convinced myself was necessary for the wellbeing of my children. But most importantly I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was apart from my husband and I didn’t know how to walk alone.
So I started to run. I quickly put one foot in front of the other. No time to heal or reflect. No time to feel. Every step I took was fueled by equal parts fear and panic and anger. I just wanted the pain to stop. And I convinced myself that I would be whole again when I found a job and could provide for my family. I would be whole again when my children were happy. I would be whole again when I found a new partner. I would be whole again when…
And this is the hardest part to admit. For years I have been living in the gap. I have been believing the lie that I am less than, and need something or someone to be complete and whole. Just picture it, standing in the valley between two mountains. Behind me is everything I thought I wanted, my hopes and dreams. The only life I ever knew. And ahead of me are all the things that I think I need in order to be happy and whole. The promotion at work. A new relationship. Stability. Comfort. And I have been standing in the valley unable to take my eyes off of the towering mountains above, my gaze shifting from past to future, pain to healing, despair to hope. Living from a place of need and want. Shattered by the past and dependent on the future.
The problem with living in the gap is I missed the beauty and lessons of the present moment. All of my energy was spent focused on my pain. Implicit in the gap is lack. Implicit in the gap is that something is missing. I have spent so much time focused on my past and future at the cost of the only thing I have for certain, the NOW. I have wasted so much time trying to find myself on the mountain tops only to realize I’m exactly where I am supposed to be.
These past few weeks have been hard. With my kids going here and there and friends traveling, I have found myself alone and lonely. My first inclination is to fill the gap, to fill the loneliness. I make phone calls to friends, I run errands, I clean. I try to fill the painful void. But I eventually give in and stop running. And I realize that this loneliness has been a gift. I have spent hours on my patio being still, listening to the birds, feeling the hard, breathing and reflecting. I have slowly released my grip on my past and my reliance on the future and have let myself live in the wonder of the moment.
And I have found beauty in the valley. I have found peace in the gap. And I have learned that life-giving water always flows to the lowest point possible. And I realize the gap isn’t a place of lack but rather a place of abundance. The gap is a place to grow and rest. It’s covered in beautiful vibrant flowers and lush green trees. Waterfalls flow from the mountains and fill the lakes. And I lay in the soft cool grass with a gentle breeze sweeping my face. I briefly gaze at the mountain behind me and think about my difficult journey down, full of so much beauty and pain. Full of love and laughter, tears and sacrifice. But it is behind me now, full of memories and lessons. And in the distance I can see the mountain ahead, full of anticipation and hope and adventure. And I linger in the valley with the sun overhead, and I take it all in. I am enough. I am complete. I am not lost. And while the journey ahead of me is unknown, I will no longer walk in fear and run in anger. I will breathe in the fresh valley air and step by step, make my way up the next mountain. And when I get to the top, I will look down at the beautiful life-giving valley with gratitude for all it has taught me. Because the truth is that there are no mountains without valleys and no valleys without mountains. They are reliant on one another for their very existence. And with love comes pain, with brokeness comes healing, with fear comes courage and with despair comes hope. And I’ll walk with certainty knowing that whether in the valley or on the mountain, the only step that matters is the one that I’m taking, because that is exactly where I’m supposed to be.