As I drove back to Boise his words repeated in my mind: “I will never allow it.”
He wouldn’t allow me to visit, even after all the times he desperately sought me out in Boise when he believed the relationship was in trouble. Now that he had control he ordered me to turn around.
How could I have been so desperate?
How did I find myself hundreds of miles from home on Valentine’s evening, racing to a man who said he would never allow me to visit? A man who I had decided again and again I needed to divorce?
I experienced such shame.
Why did I allow someone to treat me this way?
Why was it such a frightening idea to move on and make this permanent decision?
My car pulled into Boise just after 11. Outside a bar my coworkers were gathering, my girlfriends met me outside, helped me put some makeup on my swollen eyes, and we walked inside. I experienced some solidarity.
I was now divorced; finalized the moment I was told to turn around.
I was now someone’s ex-wife.
So many things I never planned to be, never wanted to be.
But here I was, single, 35 and heading into a bar with friends on a Saturday evening.
How did I get here?
I thought about some of my childhood dreams. At age 9, clutching my sturdy #2 pencil, I drew out my perfect future. It was detailed picture- from a hard-working husband, four good-looking kids, a Mormon family who helped the homeless, a large home, and most importantly, a wishing well. Yes, let’s not forget the wishing well. I always wanted to have hope and make wishes come true.
Then there was the future I’d written up when I was 14-years-old which included graduating from college [check], serving an LDS mission [check], falling in love and getting married in the Mormon temple [check], having kids … and then receiving my happily-ever-after like a sought after diploma.
So I entered my marriage with the perfect fantasy- complete with a wishing well. Looking back I realize this idealized story only created conflict. I refused to see my marriage for what it was- a dysfunctional soup that would never change. My illusion of the perfect family, however, always created the possibility that it might change, that it might get better. If I only waited a little longer and if I was only a little more understanding. My ex-husband kept promising that the marriage would get better, although he would also tell me how bad our marriage was- repeatedly.
“Lauren,” he would say all the time, “We can’t have children when our marriage is so bad.”
I would ask him what was so bad – to try to fix it. Because of course we could fix it, right? Everything can be fixed, I once naively thought. But he would never have an answer. It was just bad – all the time. Unless I threatened to leave and then it was a tragic loss.
I started to tell myself lies and create defense mechanisms to convince myself I was still on the right path. “I just need to be more patient,” I would think.
The more we cling to our idealistic stories, the more likely we are to refuse to give them up because we might have to admit we were wrong. We might have to admit that maybe our lives did not go according to plan. We might have to admit that maybe the complexity of our lives outstripped the simplicity of our illusions. I began to understand that the more deeply I clung to my story, the more I refused to let it go in spite of the reality.
I continued to create more illusions- illusions on top of illusions- to justify staying so long, and the hole kept getting deeper. I blamed others in his life, or decided to excuse the bad moments as temporary hiccups. “He didn’t really mean that,” I would say. Or, “That was bad timing,” or “he only did that once, and everyone deserves forgiveness,” or “he was so kind yesterday,” or “he has such potential,” or “we’ve been through so much together, we can get through anything,” or “No one knows him like I do, he’s a good man, maybe it’s just me.”
I wanted everything my husband and I shared together to be true. I didn’t want it to all be for nothing. No one does. We all want our experiences to be meaningful and valid. I thought: If this love story was all a facade, then I wasted my time and it would negate anything of significance we shared together. I did not want to believe I wasted five years of my life in the wrong relationship. It would also mean I was incapable of picking a partner who was good for me.
I wanted my marriage to feel meaningful so I could feel I was on stable, solid ground again, and not the years-long roller coaster ride that it really was. I clung so tight to my illusions about what my marriage could be, when the reality was so different and incompatible with my dreams. But rather than get off the roller coaster, and blaming the roller coaster, I kept riding into the sunset thinking it would suddenly turn into a canoe ride on a lake. It never did. Eventually, if you ride the roller coaster long enough you either get sick or become numb to the constant ups and downs.
People always ask me: Why do people stay in situations that hurt so much? Why do people stay in situations that are bad for them- physically, mentally and emotionally? I once asked that about others, only to then prolong my own painful mistake. I was on the roller coaster much too long and I didn’t know how to get off.
In the book, ‘The Examined Life,’ by psychologist Stephen Grosz, he writes of how difficult it is for people to change and to switch up their path. Why?
Dr. Grosz tells the story of Marissa Panigrosso, who worked on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower. When the first plane hit the north tower she felt the hot air, the confusion, and the fear. She quickly got up and walked out the emergency exit, while watching two of her co-workers remain in their cubicles, trying to make sense of everything that was happening. Marissa is alive today. Those co-workers are not.
Grosz says that “committing ourselves to a small change, even one unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation.” He continues: “We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency…People hesitate in the face of change, because change is loss. But if we don’t accept some loss, we can lose everything.”
How many times have we heard men or women say: I can’t leave this bad relationship? Where would I go? What would I do? A fire alarm could be ringing, and they don’t know the end story, so they’re not running towards the emergency exit.
For people who do find a way to finally change, at some point the illusions give way to reality. Usually it’s when we personally choose to give up the illusions, shattering our ego, our world view, and for me – shattering the dreams I so meticulously wrote up as a child.
And I was shattered. Absolutely shattered. Giving up our dreams is difficult. I never envisioned being divorced, no matter the circumstances. I always thought even the most entrenched problems could be solved. I was wrong. Some problems can’t be solved, some illusions must be abandoned before we can move on to what is best for us.
Not until I started to let go of my illusions did I begin to heal.
I knew my life had been shattered. I knew life as I had known it was gone. I was scared, but in acknowledging I was shattered, I also realized I could survive. I could move on from the illusions I had so steadfastly clung to and needed to function. Now I could cope with the reality of being single again and starting over.
Shortly after my divorce was finalized, in searching for empowerment, I found a 2014 TEDx talk by Emilia Lahti. She talked about summoning strength in adversity. She spoke of turning barriers into frontiers, and that was what I wanted to do. I was ready to summon my newfound strength.
I listened to Emilia Lahti talk about the Finnish word “Sisu.” Sisu meant taking action against all odds. Sisu became my battle cry. Sisu was my new ability to look forward without the fear of change, and without the fear of the unknown. Sisu encouraged me to take up the reins of my life once again.
The definition of Sisu is: “extraordinary determination, courage, and resoluteness in the face of adversity. An action mindset which enables individuals to reach beyond their present limitations.”
Between a music playlist I would run to consisting of the 1960’s classic “You don’t own me,” “Jar of Hearts,” by Christina Perri, and “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, I would repeat that word: Sisu.
Sisu. Courage in the face of adversity. Triumph against all odds. Sisu.
I started getting stronger. I started believing in an unknown future once again. I started to find hope. Sisu. I now believed I had options. I could continue my life in Boise without feeling guilty, without feeling I might move the next day, or the next. I could create a future without all the chaos and uncertainly that my ex-husband brought to my life every day. No more Xanax in order to survive. Sisu, I told myself. Sisu, believe in yourself. I could put down roots, and I could focus on my career. I might even be open to moving across the country for work, and even my dreams of working for CNN were back in play. I had no one to answer to but myself. Sisu- determination in the face of adversity.
I told the station I was ready and willing to fill in on the anchor desk again, and they offered me a raise. I began to anchor once again with more frequency. It was enough. It was just me and my own inner strength when I walked back to the anchor desk one month later without Xanax and delivered the news like I always knew I could.
I was back. Sisu, Sisu, Sisu.
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