What I Learned When My Life Unraveled
I got married too early. I was 23 when I tied the knot. At 24, I started panicking in the shower. It was a maddening experience. I wanted to just take a damn shower, but I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. Why didn’t I wait until I was at least 27?
Over and over again, I returned to this question. I’d close my eyes, take a deep breath and tell myself to get over it. I had it pretty good. Why was I so ungrateful?
My husband, whom I'll call Jake for this story, was great. That wasn't the issue. He was handsome and funny and creative and talented and uber-responsible — I just wasn’t ready. We lived in Austin, Texas, and we partied. My favorite form of partying was Ecstasy. When the X wore off, I was always looking for more. I had more of an addictive personality than my husband, and somehow I managed to handle a pretty large quantity of substances. If I couldn’t find more X, I was happy with coke. So when my husband went to bed after a night of partying, I stayed out.
Most of the time, my late-night buddy was our mutual best friend, Will, a guy we both knew separately before becoming a couple. Sometimes Will was our roommate. He was a musician, and we were music junkies. We all traveled together from time to time to see our favorite bands. Jake would pass out, so Will and I would go hang out in some tiny bar with the band and the groupies. It was innocent, just friends.
Then Jake started traveling for work. Around that time, he announced he was ready to start a family. He had just hit 30, while I was 26 and still having a blast partying. Family was the last thing I wanted. With Jake working on the west coast, I partied like crazy in Austin. Eventually, something had to give.
And it did. I decided I had feelings for Will. I’d always loathed my willingness to “sell out” for the paycheck, and Will's commitment to creativity attracted me. I romanticized Will’s starving artist syndrome, but I was overwhelmed with my conflicting emotions. One night while Will was playing at a bar in Austin and Jake shot photos, I went upstairs to the bathroom, sat down on the floor and started crying. What was I going to do?
After Jake left again for work in California, I decided to come clean and tell Will how I felt. He was noble. He said, “I can’t and won’t do anything about that, Rebecca. Jake is my best friend. But I’m proud of you for being brave enough to tell me.” That was the end.
And yet, it wasn’t.
A couple of months later, with Jake still traveling and me still shoving things up my nose, both of us drifting apart, Jake and I had a heartfelt discussion. He wasn’t any happier than I was. We decided to get separated. I waited until I moved out, then told him the truth. I told him I had feelings for Will. He was shocked, and my decision would devastate and mangle their friendship beyond repair.
By this point, Will had come around. He realized I was serious about my feelings for him, and couldn’t deny that he, too, had feelings for me. As so often happens when lust comes into play, he couldn’t resist; like any determined woman, I can be very persuasive. We both felt horribly guilty, but we had passed the point of no return.
This was the least popular decision of my life. My friends and family could not make sense of it. Will couldn’t promise to be a better provider than Jake; he was a broke musician, while Jake had a decent career. One day, I shared this choice with my mom, who rarely doubted a decision I made. She, the kindest of kind, the sweetest of sweet, said, “Absolutely not. You will not be with that man. Have you seen how dirty his fingernails are?”
I had and I didn’t care.
I just kept partying. That was my answer. It wasn’t so much of a choice as it was a need. A need I couldn’t understand, and frankly, a need I couldn’t control. I couldn’t stop the partying because I was afraid to feel the pain and fear. Partying was the only way to keep the darkness at bay.
At one point, after a particularly hairy Halloween night, I hit a new low. I arrived at work barely sober, still in my Gene Simmons KISS costume. I changed clothes, washed up a bit, and made up a lie about an off-site meeting. My boss knew better, and called fairly quickly to tell me so. He fired me.
After I lost my job, Will and I sunk to a new low. He did something I’d never had another partner do. He made no effort whatsoever to save me. We were both at a friend’s house. I was in so much pain: stark, debilitating, humiliating, fear and pain. Pain over what I had done to my husband, pain over the humiliation I was sitting smack dab in the middle of, pain over the fear of having no job and no prospects. Pain.
We sat in my friend’s room, me on the bed, hands in my lap, slumped over and crying. He sat on the floor by the vanity in front of me. Not looking up, slouched over, crying. I could feel not only my pain, but his as well. And he just sat about two feet away and sunk level by level into my despair. There was no pep talk, something I’d administered to him a thousand times over. There was no ray of sunshine or life raft, just a meeting of the minds. I realized, “Oh shit. He likes this.”
Years later, in therapy, I discovered that I did, too. One of my greatest lessons from this debacle was that pain was often home for me. And I didn’t want to live that way. So I had to mindfully change that pattern. No indulging in the seductive fire of pity and pain. No more.
I felt so much shame at this point. I was ashamed my marriage had failed. I was ashamed I was the one who had wrecked it. I was ashamed about just about everything in my life. I tried once to go back, right before Jake signed the divorce papers that I had downloaded and given to him. We had nothing to divide but debt and dashed dreams — no possessions, no assets, no children. We simply needed to fill in the blank forms. As a last resort, I begged him. “Please,” I said. “Please forgive me. Let’s patch this up. Don’t you miss me? Don’t you think we can make this work?”
I'd hoped he might want to come back to me. He’d been dating. I was hopeful that through dating, he might have realized that what we had was special and worth saving. Neither of us had been willing to work on it before; I was willing now. In my deviance, I'd seen the beauty of our simple bond: conservative, based on something pure and innocent. It had become tainted, but my wish was that in time, we would cleanse it. Together.
But, understandably, he was of a different mind.
He balked. I cried. It was over.
A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.
My doctors had told me that fertility might be an issue for me. Jake and I had never bothered with protection, and I’d never gotten pregnant. Suddenly, here I was: 27, soon to be divorced and pregnant with the child of the man for whom I'd left my husband, the man who happened to be our former mutual best friend. This was not the plan. I'd opted for the party lifestyle, hoping to postpone responsibility for another half a decade or so. Now I was the one carrying the baby?
Fortunately, I had a good job (having already replaced the drowning ad agency with a big corporate umbrella), good insurance and no reason not to have the baby. Plus, I was excited about him. I knew my baby would be a boy. From the very first moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew it was my son. I committed to becoming a mom, and lo and behold, I was actually stoked. This shocked me. I still felt regret and shame, but I was excited about a new chapter, something clean. And clean it was.
I now know that getting pregnant was the only way I was going to get truly clean. I suspect it was a wake-up call from the Universe, or God, or whatever it is you call your Higher Power. It was a not-so-subtle tap on the shoulder and an in-your-face message that said, "Come the fuck on, sister. You are seriously headed down the wrong path. Get it together. It’s now or never."
I stayed with Will as long as I could. I really wanted this relationship to work. But Will wasn't ready for the transformation needed to become a parent. It’s just not the same for a man. The woman carries the baby. There's no room for margin of error. The man has a different timeline. His body isn’t hijacked, and even if he wants to understand what's happening to his partner, ultimately, he can't. He can only imagine.
It took Will many years to become parenting material. It was painful and disappointing, and once again humiliating, but we broke up for the final time when our son turned two. Today, he's a different man. He's sober, responsible, happily married to a wonderful woman, and we enjoy co-parenting in a way that would have been a fantasy at one time in our lives.
Many people have asked me why. Why would I do something that was so destructive and ruined so many lives, including my own? I wish I had a clean answer. I spent years in therapy trying to understand my own choices, my own behavior. I discovered that I hadn't processed, addressed or even acknowledged a deep-seated pain.
While I understand this now, I also know that it's not all of the story. These days, I understand that regardless of our circumstances while growing up, or even today, we all have a framework of emotions inside of us, including pain, love, hope, joy, and sorrow. If we can get comfortable knowing that pain is just another part of life, not to be feared, not to be numbed, simply to be noticed, recognized and allowed, we can realize true freedom. We can stop fearing and start living.
This is exactly what I've done since I left my corporate career five years ago to pursue a life of teaching yoga and writing. I moved back home to help care for my mother, who was ill. Six months later, I met the man who became my current husband and who is the father of my second child, a sweet baby girl. My yoga career is thriving, as is the studio I call home. I'm not saying I never feel pain — I do. But I'm less inclined to fear it so much now.
It sounds so easy because in some ways, it is. I encourage you to try it. You might find that you have to let go of a lot of a lot of your past. I get it. I’ve had to as well.
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