I was 20 years old when I married my high school sweetheart. Not only was I still learning who I was and what I wanted out of life, but I was also learning who I was as a wife and what my husband wanted from me. We had been together since I was 16 years old. I had grown into who I was with him. But it wasn’t really with him as much as it was for him. He did not support my choice of college, so I stayed in our small hometown and went to the community college and online university. My hometown is small, with no real career potential. So I decided to teach. I love helping children. I’m patient. I figured it would fit. I wanted more, but I wanted him, so I had to settle. Or so I thought…
I’m naturally blonde, but he didn’t like blondes. So I kept my hair dyed dark brown. I spent a lot of time getting ready each day so I looked how he wanted me to look. I dressed how he wanted me to dress. I interacted with people he wanted me to interact with. I didn’t realize that I was letting him control the person I became. I became exactly who he wanted me to be, and not a bit of what I wanted to be.
Growing up, my parents were the picture perfect marriage — in my eyes at least. They are each other’s best friend. They confide in each other. They bicker and get annoyed with each other. I could never count the amount of eye-rolls or annoyed sighs between them. But they chose each other over everything else, every single day. My mother could be giving my dad the silent treatment, but he still thinks she is beautiful. My father could be letting his temper get the best of him, but she still admires him. I learned how to love from my parents. And I absolutely adored my husband. I was who I was because of him. Everything I did was for him. I craved his approval. Very rarely did he look at me like I longed to be looked at, and I thought if I could just be what he wanted me to be, he would look at me the way my father looks at my mother.
So after five years of being what he wanted me to be, imagine what happened to my identity when we separated when I was 21. Not even a year after we married, I went to my parents for a while. We told each other we would work it out and after we got to a better place, I would come home. But he never wanted to work on us. It took me months to realize he expected me to cave and just come home. He wanted me to pretend I was okay and happy so I didn’t “embarrass” him – he was one of those guys who put on the macho act to his friends and having his wife leave him wasn’t the image he wanted for himself. He thought marrying me did me a favor; I thought he married me to spend his life with me.
When he texted me and asked me if I wanted a divorce, I knew I needed to change my life — for me. I wanted more. More of everything. More education, more drive, more motivation, more love, more happiness, more than my small hometown or a marriage without affection or respect could offer me. Two months after I took back my maiden name, I left my family, my friends, my job of 4 years and I moved 850 miles away from home. Completely on my own. I rented a small apartment in a big city. I visited new schools. I got a new job. I dyed my hair blonde. I met new people. But something still wasn’t right.
Without all of the distractions of my friends, family and husband, I was forced to look at myself as just me for the first time in a very long time. And I realized how deeply depressed I really was. I had no idea who was looking back at me in the mirror. Who was she? What did she do for fun? What was her passion? What motivated her? I had no idea. Absolutely none. And it terrified me. I was 22 years old by this point and didn’t even know what I liked to do.
After a few months, I met a man at work. I didn’t want to tell him I was divorced, especially so young. It hung over me like a black cloud and I felt like I wore a scarlet letter for the world to see. But I told him. After a year, he proposed to me. I thought to myself, this time around, I’ll be myself. He looks at me the way my father looks at my mother and I admire him, even when his temper annoys me. Everything was great. Until I looked in the mirror again and still didn’t know who I was. I sat down and took a long, painful look at myself. Who was I? What did I want to do with my life? Where was I going from here? For the first time, I decided to do whatever I wanted to. If my friends, family and my fiancé really love me, they won’t care what my career is. They won’t care where I go to school, or what color my hair is, or if I wear makeup.
I got out a pencil and a piece of paper. Living with my divorce over my head had to stop. It was in the past and I couldn’t change it. But I could move forward with my life. I deserved more of myself. And my fiancé deserved someone who could grow with him, not be afraid to make the same mistakes again. I craved more from myself.
First, I needed to repair my relationship with God. I had let it slip after my divorce from fear of judgement, from feeling like a failure… I had every excuse in the book. But I had to face it. God loves me and church is a safe place. I needed to move forward. I wasn’t going to walk in the door and be shunned. I was going to walk in the door and be loved. I could admit my failures and short comings, but still be loved.
Next, I needed education. I am now enrolled in online classes with a major in criminology. I want to help people. I want to use my love of psychology and sociology to understand why people do what they do, but I want to keep people safe, too. So I combined the two. I have mapped a plan to get into forensic psychology. Have you ever seen Criminal Minds? If you have, that’s going to be me. If you haven’t, you really should! It’s not exactly the same as being a small town teacher. But remember? I want more. I want to make a difference.
Finally, I needed to be happy. I couldn’t be happy holding onto fears and the past. I sat there for what felt like hours, staring at nothing. Then I made the decision to let go. It wasn’t easy. Everything I had been through in the past 5 years wouldn’t suddenly vanish. I didn’t expect it to. I held on so tightly that I thought I would never let go, honestly. But I did. It was like a weight had been lifted and I could suddenly breathe. I am not my past. I am me, right here and right now. It may have taken me a little while, but I am making my own path and choosing a future that I want. Not anybody else. I am going to live my life from now on.
I went from spending close to an hour on my makeup each day to wearing none. It may not seem like a big thing to most people, but it was a very difficult thing to do. The first time I went out in public with a bare face, I thought everyone could see every failure, mistake, every blemish and imperfection. It was much deeper than my skin; makeup was a mask for me. I hid behind it. But now, I am letting go of my masks and not hiding behind a life that someone else has made for me.
It’s not easy. It’s a fight every day. I have to make the choice to get out of bed and push forward to get what I want from my life. It would be so much easier to go back to my comfort zone and hide, but I make the choice each day to keep pushing.
Going through a divorce is unfortunate, and it’s not something that anyone plans or wants for themselves. But it doesn’t control what we do with our future. Sometimes it takes a difficult experience to become who we are meant to be. After my divorce, I had to realize that I cannot be what anyone else wants me to be. I am becoming exactly who I was meant to be.