In less than 4 weeks I'm getting married, so I think it’s high time I get divorced.
Let me back up. I have never said “I do.” I’m in a wonderful relationship with a man who is my opposite in many ways, and who adores me for exactly who I am. And 3 weeks from Saturday, I will walk down the aisle and commit to him, and exactly who he is, for the rest of our lives. I am lucky: not just because I found a man who can cook, sings loudly (and mostly off-key) throughout the house, surprises me with flowers and mystery dates, and is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met (but don’t tell him I told you so). I’m lucky because I’ve never been in a “bad” relationship – at least, not with another person. The truth is, the only “bad” relationship I’ve ever been in is with myself.
There is no one I’m meaner to than myself. You didn’t make it to the gym today? I’m sure you had a good reason, you’re busy, sometimes you need to just take it easy! Me? I’m lazy, unmotivated, and not committed to my goal of health and well-being. You ate that lemon buttercream cupcake? You deserve it! It’s a special occasion! It’s just one! Me? I’m “bad,” lack willpower, and genuinely believe I am going to gain 3 pounds overnight. You didn’t get the part you wanted in the play? It’s their loss – they were shortsighted, you’re amazing, you’re going to find a better role! Me? I’m not good enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not thin enough.
If you know anything about me, you know that I believe in kindness, fairness, and treating others with compassion. So why is it that I can be this loving version of myself for others, but I find it so challenging to grace myself with the same?
So much of it is the story I tell myself. We all have stories. I don’t mean tales of fairy princesses in high towers, or that time in college when your friend accidentally broke his frat brother’s shoulder in a friendly game of arm wrestling. We all have stories about who we were and what that says about who we are and what’s wrong with us. For me, my story is that I was really overweight growing up, and it’s easy to use this history, this “bad fact” about my past, to make excuses for or explain my choices today. I didn’t go for a run today? I’m not being lazy, I am a lazy person. I ate the lemon buttercream cupcake? It’s because I’ve always had a problem saying no to food and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But I’m learning that in giving life to my story, and believing in my story, I’m depriving myself of choice and empowerment.
One of my favorite lines by author Chuck Palahniuk is “Your past is just a story. And once you realize this, it has no power over you.” It is my choice whether I go for a run or not; it is my decision whether to go for that second helping of mac and cheese or not; it is my opportunity to choose how to react if I don’t get a part in the play. It’s certainly a process, but in accepting that I am not my story, I am taking control and creating the life I want now.
We also can create a life where we set ourselves up to win. If you tend to see things in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad (guilty!), then you’re constantly setting yourself up to lose. Think about it: if you want to go to the gym 3 times this week, and you make it there twice, you could berate yourself for not going that third time, or you could consider it a win that you worked out twice instead of once or not at all. If you want to try out for a play and you don’t get a part, you could see it as a failure, or you could see it as a win that you put yourself out there and went for something that was important to you, despite not knowing what the outcome would be. By creating opportunities to win instead of seeing anything less than perfect as a loss, you start noticing cracks in the story that you tell yourself about being lazy, having issues with food, not being good enough/talented enough/just… enough.
So should we just move on and let go of the past? Sometimes it seems easier to cut ties with the person we were and think of the present version of ourselves as a blank slate. But to do that ignores that who we were is part of who we are now – and that’s a good thing. There’s a difference between dwelling on the past and acknowledging it for what it has made you. Maybe you were bullied in elementary school; maybe you were the bully. Maybe you were physically or emotionally abused. Maybe, like me, you were really heavy as a kid. Maybe you’ve never been in a successful relationship with another person. But these things do not define you. They are part of your past, and you have the ability to decide how much weight to give it in the present (no pun intended). For me, I believe that I am kinder and more empathetic as an adult because of what I looked and felt like growing up, and how I was treated. I’m learning that there is a way to honor and accept who I was, and at the same time, realize that my past is not who I am.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be finalizing the playlist for the reception, going to a last dress fitting, and heading to City Hall with my future hubby to get our marriage license. And while I’m at it, I’ll be working on finalizing my divorce – from my story of myself. I’ll make sure to acknowledge my wins, not just my losses. I’ll take responsibility for the choices I make, and not shrug off bad choices as my story over which I have no control. I’ll honor my past but recognize that, for better or for worse, I get to choose who I’m being now, and what my story is.
Are you married to your past? If you are, and it’s not serving you, get a divorce. Your future will thank you.