I traveled a rough road during my mid-30s. I never thought I’d get divorced at 32. But when confronted with losing myself in an unhealthy partnership or making a clean break, I realized I had only one option.
I felt horrible afterward. So naturally I plunged into another relationship to soothe the pain, but this relationship wasn't healthy, either. For four years, we broke up and got back together — over and over again.
My heart cracked into a thousand pieces. But I let the opening transform me. I discovered that suffering can prove a powerful agent for growth and personal development. And I emerged at nearly 40 a wiser, more compassionate, more grounded and happier person.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned during that time, and they're lessons that may help lead you to love and happiness.
1. Embrace fear in any way you can.
In my 20s, my greatest fear was being divorced and childless at 35. I pitied women in that position who wanted to have families. I could smell the cold sweat of their desperation.
Then it happened to me.
I was terrified. For a while, I carried that scent of panic with me. I worried that I would wind up a crazy cat lady, alone and unhinged.
So I walked straight into my fear. I turned my story around and chose to view my freedom as a gift rather than a curse. I did yoga teacher training, became a life coach, dove deeper into my writing, and learned to surf. I traveled to Costa Rica — where, it so happens, I met the love of my life and future husband.
It turned out that getting tossed headfirst into the crashing waves of my fear wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me — it was the best. It taught me that most of my fears were irrational projections of what might happen in the future. The reality of my present was filled with loving friends and family, and exciting opportunities.
2. Make loneliness one of your friends.
I used to get shaky at the thought of spending time alone, especially without distractions. So I tackled that fear by heading off on my first 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat (then my second, then a third…).
This was the best piece of self-work I have ever done for myself. Seriously, I think I accomplished more by sitting quietly on a meditation cushion than I did in several years of therapy.
I calmed the chatter of my monkey brain. I got in touch with my higher self, who told me that everything was OK exactly as it was. I learned to accept things as they are.
3. Stand up and accept responsibility.
I could have blamed my divorce on my ex-husband. Sure, he had some pretty ridiculous ideas of what our marriage should look like. But what good would analyzing his flaws do me? I’m stuck with me for the rest of my life!
Through psychotherapy, spiritual books and self-analysis, I came to take responsibility for the role I played in the failure of my marriage. I recognized my naiveté, my willingness to compromise my values and my tendency to be judgmental. These were qualities I could change in myself, and help myself grow into a more balanced and self-aware person.
4. Find new ways to love yourself, without relying on others.
It’s such a cliché, but happiness starts and ends with loving yourself. I found my true love the moment I stopped looking for someone else to fill the hole in my soul, the moment I realized that I was more than enough.
Those single years were trying. But I came away with a profound sense of my own worth. I was so far from the desperate, panicked woman I imagined I might be. I was proud. I embraced adventure. And I had faith that life was taking me on precisely the journey I needed to have.
5. Don’t settle for less.
In those tumultuous years with my noncommittal boyfriend, my brain twisted itself into pretzels justifying our relationship. I wanted to be with someone who burst with enthusiasm for me. Instead, I settled on a man who was filled with ambivalence. I told myself this was the best I could do at my age.
Well, one day it just wasn’t enough. I put an end the seesaw ride. I wanted more. I deserved more.
No less than two weeks later, the handsome surfer I’d met in Costa Rica three years earlier called to tell me that he was single. My heart exploded. We plunged into the happiest, most fulfilling relationship of my life. I am utterly adored, and I totally adore him. I am so glad that I didn’t compromise. I am forever grateful that my higher self knew to keep the faith.