I was laying in bed the other night, nursing my toddler back to sleep, one hand on his chest, feeling the rise and fall as he breathed, and the steady beat of his heart. It transported me back to the weeks four and a half years ago when my marriage was crumbling. I remember laying in bed one evening, my head on my ex-husband’s chest, hearing his heart beating. Feeling so sad that it was probably the last time I would ever hear it.
Suddenly, I realised that I’d been looking at that period of my life all wrong.
In the moment, caught up in my grief, I thought I was grieving for my marriage. For my husband. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, as well as some distance, I can see I was really grieving a death.
A death, not a marriage. A death of myself. Of who I was., of who I hoped to be, of who I had tried to be, pretended to be.
That grief was huge. Momentous. I had spent 14 years in a marriage. I’d boxed away the trauma I’d been through before my marriage, that led to an overdose and eating disorders, packaged it away and tried to be someone else. For fourteen years I’d plastered on a smile, and tried to fool myself I was happy.
Even when friends told me they thought I had outgrown my husband, I refused to listen. I’d perfected this role of wife and mama, I was safe behind it. My anxiety and depression had something to hide behind, a mask to wear so that I didn’t have to reveal the real me. The one who was scared and lonely and anxious and unsure of herself.
So when I walked away from my marriage, I was mourning the person I had been. The relief my marriage was over couldn’t compare to the grief I felt at losing the ‘me’ I thought I was supposed to be.
You see, with my marriage in tatters, I no longer had to pretend. If I didn’t have to pretend to the world, it meant I couldn’t carry on pretending to myself. With the lack of pretence, all the walls I had built came crashing down. I was exposed. Raw. Numb with grief.
I couldn’t communicate this with anyone, and I’m not sure I fully understood myself at the time. The world saw someone who was grieving her marriage end. And in a way I was – but not because I wished it hadn’t ended but because the end of it meant the end of pretending.
Suddenly I was adrift. I had no anchor. Nothing to hide behind. I’d ignored how I really felt for years, telling myself that it didn’t matter, I was married and had a family, and could hide behind that. Now I was just me, and I was afraid and scared.
Six long months it took me to move through the stages of grief. To accept that the version of me I had played for so long was gone, that she had served her purpose, and got me through 14 long years, kept me going when I didn’t think I could, and now she was no longer needed. That I didn’t need to pretend anymore. I could just be me.
I wish I could go back and tell myself how alright it would be. That I would thrive from living in my truth, in not pretending, or acting, or putting on a front. That I didn’t need to be sad or afraid.
I needed to hit rock bottom so that I could claw my way back up. Stronger than ever. Happier than before. More centred and sure of myself.