As the Zoom call for an upcoming podcast wrapped up, my co-host and I chatted with our featured guest. We had just finished interviewing a fellow writer/blogger. Someone who had made a name for herself as a relationship coach and had published a couple of books. I’d been a long-time admirer of hers, but until this interview, I’d only messaged her.
Now that the recording was over, we chatted and got to know one another better. It was then that the guest complimented me.
“You are always so put together,” she said. “So dressed up.”
I smiled but froze, not sure what to say.
Yes, these days, I tend to dress up. There’s a reason for that — something most people would never guess.
It’s because I don’t own many clothes. Some people need a spare bedroom to hold all of their options. Though that has never been true for me, these days, in my tiny studio closet, there’s room to spare. My top shelves aren’t chucked-full, and a dresser for undergarments and gym attire is unnecessary.
Our podcast guest didn’t know that 19 months ago, I fled another country with only two large suitcases; electronic gadgets consumed most of their interior space. Several bags of clothes had to be left behind. There was no way I could afford the extra costs to ship them home.
So, I dragged several enormous piles of my belongings into the streets to be taken home by the passing workers who had finished their long day. They picked through my purses, shoes, and clothes and carted them away.
My two-year-old marriage was ending.
Unbeknownst to me, I had wed a serial cheater and maybe even a con artist. We spent countless hours at various therapists’ offices, only to discover all that had improved was his deceptiveness. He just got better at hiding the solicitations of prostitutes, drinking, and gambling.
He was also an equal partner in our new international start-up company — a grave error since I’d funded the business. Now, he was threatening to sue for half of the assets. I feared he’d win since he was a native of the country and fluent in the language. So, I paid him off with what cash I had left, hoping he’d exit my life quietly.
I returned to the US with little financial reserves and no job. My only source of income was a small foreign travel business. I hoped it would generate enough revenue to live on until I could draw from my retirement funds. Then COVID hit.
I tightened my budget. I ate less, cut any unnecessary expenses, and considered selling my car. I threw myself into writing, hoping that the extra cash would make my savings last longer.
There was no room in my budget for clothing. All I’d brought with me were business casual outfits. I didn’t own any sweat pants or many everyday attire. Then I gained weight, thanks to the sedate pandemic life, decreasing my options.
Each day I now dress like I’m heading out to an appointment or church because that’s all I have.
This woman’s comment got me thinking. I’ve been so focused on surviving I haven’t slowed down enough to ponder the effects of this transition. Of what it felt like to start over again. How much it had hurt to lose that marriage. To lose touch with the support system I had built in that other country.
And it wasn’t like I returned to the US for wonderful reasons. I came home to support my oldest son, who had just been diagnosed with cancer. I stepped off the plane with my huge suitcases and headed to the hospital, where he lay near death. There was no time to cry over my limited wardrobe. That was the last of my worries. My focus was on supporting my son as he faced the biggest challenge of his life.
It was then that I began to write stories. My second career got its start at the hospital as I sat beside my son’s bedside.
I spilled onto the page the truth about my life. How badly it was careening out of control. I penned about the fears and anxieties I faced as my second marriage ended and my son’s health struggled.
The size of the hurdles ahead of me was so enormous that I pushed forward. There wasn’t the time to ask myself how I felt about having to start over again. So worried for my son, I never allowed myself the space to grieve over the lost money and belongings.
My parents had taught me it was useless to cry over spilled milk. Yes, that marriage left a lot of milk all over the floor of my life. Instead, I stiffened my spine and resolved not to cry over things left behind, like my mother’s antique mantle clock.
But was that a good practice? Did it help or hurt me?
Yes, I got through each day — to furnish a small apartment on a tight budget, to show up for my family’s needs, and to work full time.
But my losses went unacknowledged.
It sits unprocessed as impulsive triggers. We wonder why chronic pain wracks our bodies, and we struggle to shake persistent melancholy. We turn to our addictions, hoping to drown out the unresolved, relentless emotional noise.
So today, I’m choosing to be kinder to myself. To stop and give homage to what I’ve lost over the past several years. And even to cry over a few of these things.
- My easy trust in others
- My belief in people’s goodness
- The three years of my life spent in that toxic relationship
- More of my sense of safety in the world
- My sexual integrity
- My Sonos Soundbar and Apple TV
- My antique mantle clock
- My favorite purple shirt and all the other clothing I left behind
These losses demand to be recognized. I firmly believe this is the only way to be whole and healed once again.
In the 19 months since I left that terrible marriage, I regained peace of mind and discovered a newfound self-confidence. I’ve never done so many exciting things or had so many adventures. I’ve taken some significant risks, been increasingly vulnerable, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
Out of trauma and tragedy, I’ve done more than survive, I’ve thrived.
No, there’s still not the extra cash to buy more clothing, but the next time someone comments, I’m going to smile privately. I will hear their words as a badge of honor. And it will become a symbol of my victorious durability and persistence.
Do you think you’ve fallen out of love? Would you like to reignite your previous passion? Here’s an insider’s hack.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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