My husband and I had been having problems in our marriage for quite some time. For many months, doubt for my feelings for him had been creeping in, met with a cortisol-inducing mix of denial and horror, rather than the self-forgiveness and calm introspection I'd have encouraged in a friend or family member facing the same ordeal. Without the latter, I saw my doubt as an evil, unwanted imposter and spent much of my time in flight or fight misery. It look nearly three years of detoxing my sense of self - so utterly snarled up in the 'rightness' of being a good wife and Mum - to be able to see clearly why my feelings had changed. But this blog isn’t about the ins and outs of my marriage breakdown – it’s about how I started to heal from the trauma that arose from such a massive, life-changing event.
The first step was finally admitting my changing feelings to myself. But that took so long that by the time I did it, my self-trust was decimated and I was physically and mentally exhausted. When I then shared my feelings with my husband and he asked me to try and make it work, I agreed. I was aware that I was delaying what I knew in my very soul was inevitable, but I just wasn't strong enough to see it through and I allowed other factors to trump my own sense of knowing.
Over the three-year period that followed, my compulsion to leave worsened. I found myself explaining everything so many times, to my husband, and to the three counsellors I saw in succession who I hoped could brainwash me into un-knowing that I didn't want to be married anymore. I guess it’s no wonder that I tried to anaesthetise myself with food and wine – I was literally consuming my own truth. I look at the photos of myself now and see how much pain I was in. I was bloated, pale and broken by the energy it took to lie to myself. But still I fought for my marriage, for my daughter to have two parents. Ultimately, I was fighting myself. But I had made a decision - this was going to be my life.
We had work done on the house, we tried for a longed-for second baby (I fell pregnant but lost the baby 11 weeks later) and we had numerous ‘make or break’ holidays and mini breaks. The inevitable happened in November 2014 when I had what you might call an epiphany, or if you're less dramatic than I am (most people are), a moment of clarity. It wasn't particularly film-worthy. I was giving my parents a lift into Leeds for a day out with their friends. My happily married, gorgeous parents who still dressed up and sparked off of one another like glints of sunlight after 30+ years of marriage. As I drove along, partaking in their easy conversation. I realised: they 'just knew' that they loved each other. That was it. That was all I've ever wanted. I became acutely aware of the pins and needles that had been increasingly making their way up and down my arms in my waking hours in recent weeks, the palpitations, the butterflies, and knew with final, crystal and absolute certainty that I could not continue in my marriage without compromising my sanity and health. Again, I had made a decision.
Eventually, in time, the mortification, desolation and guilt of ending my marriage, and my child's family life, gave way to the intense relief that only naming and living your truth can bring. I started to feel glimmers of hope that I’d finally be able to live as my authentic self. Discovering who I was and wondering what the ‘real me’ would look like was very exciting, and the rich reward for finally doing what needed to be done.
Fast forward a few months. One of the very first steps I took to forge a new way forward was to join a local gym. At first, I was a wreck. I remember my first gym visit. I didn’t even have a sports bra – let alone any decent gym wear – and I wore cheap leggings, battered trainers and one of my husband’s t-shirts. I felt like such an impostor, an untogether mess, when the instructor showed me around. But it was amazing how quickly I got into it, and slowly my health began to improve. I had no wish to go out socially at that point and the gym punctuated my week beautifully. Looking back, it was so wonderfully healing. I discovered body combat and found it so therapeutic that I based my week around the classes. I used to find its aggressive nature so cathartic and cleansing and the music so euphoric that I’d nearly be in tears, punching out my pain. I’d also head down to the showers feeling like I was going to throw up, so unused was my body to exercise.
For so long, there hadn’t seemed to be any point in exercising. Why bother when there were so many huge, insurmountable issues I had no hope of addressing? But just taking that step to improve my health opened so many more doors. I felt like I’d found a passion, and a new aspect of my identity; one that was separate to the ‘me’ that had existed before. It made me want to discover more about myself – after all, now that I was on my own I was a blank canvas!
The next development was to adopt a new way of eating (the 5:2 diet, which I'll write about in my next blog). I started to lose weight and began to realise that health was something I was really interested in and stimulated by. I fantasised about finally being able to do my own shopping and buy what I wanted. As a master of balancing the books, my husband had been very keen to control what we put in the trolley in a bid to keep our costs down. I craved variety, vibrancy, taste, and now I could have it!
My first shop when myself and my son finally moved into a new house felt amazing. I felt so free! I could experiment to my heart’s content and discovered that I genuinely enjoyed healthy foods. Shellfish, avocados, pulses, spices, cheeses… the possibilities were endless! And I still love choosing what my daughter and I are going to eat during the week ahead. It was just another part of the real me - another passion - that slotted into place.
I felt attractive for the first time in so long. I had hated myself during the demise of my marriage, but I started to feel that it was ok to be confident in myself, to like myself. I was worth the investment. I was worth looking after. And I felt like a significantly better role model to my son than I had ever been.
Tackling my spiritual health was an equally profound journey, but one which started later and that I’m still on. My first step was addressing the physical realm because I knew it would give me the strength to work deeper. It’s over five years since the end of my marriage and becoming aware of the amount of work I have to do on myself in order to be part of a happy relationship - and to attract someone who can meet me halfway - has been a relatively recent development. It's not always easy, but I’m enjoying taking active steps to increase my spiritual health as I now realise that it’s every bit as critical as the physical.
The most important criteria to living healthily has to be peace of mind. If there are big, fundamental issues in your life that aren’t being dealt with, they’re likely to manifest themselves to some degree as an irregularity around food/exercise. And I don’t mean ‘external’ crises – there’ll always be one of those! I mean being at peace with yourself, living authentically and truthfully.
I look back on the old me now and I feel numb. I can’t relate at all to the person I used to be; I can’t put myself inside the old me’s head. That could lead me down the road of wondering about the years I wasted, but I try to avoid thoughts of that nature. What matters is that I'm aligned with the person I am now. I know her, and most of the time I like her, despite her grumpiness and penchant for terrible language. I am still growing - I always will be.
If you're reading this feeling like you have a mountain to climb, know this: you can take all of the time that you need. You may decide to stay or you may decide to leave. Either way, taking steps to explore your feelings and make a decision that feels right for you is incredibly brave. It will take you into unchartered territory many don't dare to contemplate. But your bravery will pay off and you will reach the right outcome, becoming a better, stronger version of yourself in this immeasurably tough process.
So many of us have made huge life decisions and come out on the other side. Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone wrestling with something? Please comment below.