My ex and I met in our undergrad when he was engaged to be married to someone else. After graduating and going our separate ways, we reconnected in a different city while he was facing the end of his very short-lived marriage.
I was drawn to his vulnerability – his need for emotional rescue. And ironically enough, as we connected over late-night coffees and similar growing-up wounds, he was drawn to me for the same reason. I was lonely and desperately needed someone to distract me from the terrifying question mark of my directionless life-path.
And boy… did I find it.
And even before we were married, with white-knuckled fists, I held on to our relationship through waning romantic effort… unhealthy boundaries at home and work… addiction… neverending counseling appointments… promise after broken promise.. Lie after lie… Trying to control him… begging him to change…
All because I was too terrified to figure out who I was on my own. To face the reality of me.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved him deeply. And I desperately wanted him to love me back.
But underneath it all, I was a scared little girl, who was too afraid to face the world alone. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be…and facing that stark truth seemed infinitely more frightening than clawing my way through a painful marriage. Somehow, it was easier for me to pour myself into futility rather than hoping for a life and a relationship that I truly wanted.
To love someone who could love me back.
To love myself.
Isn’t it crazy how we are content to slop around in the muck and pretend everything is fine, when all the while a gorgeous mansion awaits us right next door?
Oh, and the risk of disappointing others. Or giving other people – anyone, really – an opportunity to find fault in something I did… Oh man. That fear was the worst.
I argued with my in-laws in my head. His counselors. Our pastors. Mutual friends. Co-workers. And if I couldn’t win the mental argument – if I couldn’t concoct a plan that was immune to criticism, I wouldn’t act on it.
It kept me paralyzed for years.
I didn’t know who to believe, and I never felt like I had someone safe enough to listen to me and help me.
That is, until I met Kelley.
Kelley was our marriage counselor, ironically enough, and even though my ex didn’t act on most of the advice she gave him, I am so thankful for the months of talks I had with her, because she is the one who encouraged me to be that person for myself. To allow myself to be the one who would grant permission. To decide what was best for me. She taught me how to parent myself out of the prison I was locked inside – the prison I had fashioned for myself.
I began to understand how to separate myself from the need for approval – and to do the things I needed to do to feel alive. To be me.
And so, on my thirty-sixth birthday, I decided to test the waters. Instead of forcing myself to go to a shared birthday celebration with my in-laws, I gave myself permission to do something I wanted to do. While my husband and daughter headed east to his family’s house, I drove west and found myself at a campsite at Knob Noster State Park, near Sedalia, Missouri. Nothing spectacular.. Just a quiet campground in a wooded area with a couple of trails and a lake nearby.
On a race between me and the sunset, I sweated through three attempts to pitch my tent (note to self: buy a new tent)… railed at the firewood when it refused to light (wet firewood tends to do that)… and laughed hysterically as I Instagrammed the quarter-sized hail pounding the walls of my tiny abode the next day. You know what I did next? Yoga. Yep. Yoga in my tent during a Missouri summer thunderstorm. It was epic.
And I was delighted.
I spent the weekend exploring, hiking, biking… fending for myself… enjoying the time to be alone… to be at peace. I didn’t need anyone else to tell me it was okay to do the things I needed to do. To take care of myself. To honor the incredible woman God has made me to be and to trust that he wants good things for me. Healthy things. Loving things.
And on my last afternoon in my newly found paradise, I rented a kayak. Opened the locker, muscled it down, and pulled it behind me as I struggled slowly to the lakeshore.
Getting settled and ready to paddle, I popped in my earbuds and scrolled through my list of Audible books.
Call it serendipity… call it divine interruption… call it whatever you want.. but when I saw the title The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck… I knew what had to be done.
As I paddled on the lake that glorious afternoon in Knob Noster State Park, I began to learn that there really are only so many fucks one person can give. And living my life to appease the naysayers around me just wasn’t one of them anymore.
I found the key to unlock my prison – a monumental turning point ten years in the making. Relief and liberation poured over me. It was incredible.
What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that pushing the prison door open and walking through it would be the most terrifying thing I have ever had to do. All I knew is that it was time, and that I was ready. And that was enough.