In March 2019, I attended the Power of Narrative conference in Boston with my close friend, Ann marie. The time spent with her was not only wonderful for our friendship and for inspiring our writing, but the days served as a turning point for me. I spent the majority of that time talking to Ann marie about my myriad of feelings, my marriage, and the direction in which I knew my life needed to go, but I was scared to make moves toward it at that point.
Something I admitted to Ann marie – and I’ve thought about often before and after – was I felt a tremendous sense of guilt that, in many ways, I’d been living a lie; pretending that I was okay; that my marriage and my life were okay. If I was being completely honest with myself, I knew for quite some time that the relationship had shifted; that I had shifted. I didn’t blame my ex-husband, and I didn’t necessarily feel badly for changing either. But I DID feel a lot of guilt and shame for carrying that in me for so very long. Did I waste my life? Did I waste his life? This is probably one of the hardest things I grappled with (and still grapple with) in my divorce.
In Boston, Ann marie and I had dinner with her then 22-year-old son, Jackson, and his girlfriend. Before dinner, she said this to me: “While we’re sitting at dinner tonight, I want you to look at Jackson and his girlfriend, and think about how young he is. And then I want you to remember you at that same age. And I want you to have some compassion for that young girl who was only doing what she knew as the truth in that moment in time, at that age.”
At dinner that night, I looked at her son and remembered those words. It suddenly hit me like a gut punch (the many drinks probably contributed to that). In fact, Ann marie said she could tell just by looking at my face when I had the realization.
I thought, “How the hell does anyone know ANYTHING at that age? What the hell did I know about relationships or life or MYSELF at that age? How would I know where I would be at age 40?” I was 21 when I met my ex-husband, and 25 when we got married. I was a kid, for all intensive purposes.
While that realization helped me tremendously with perspective, I still really struggle(d) with allowing myself to be okay with the choices I made, and feeling like I was living a dishonest life, in some ways.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest holiday of the Jewish year; the day we ask G-d for forgiveness. We are then wiped clean of our sins, given a fresh start, and inscribed in the Book of Life. There’s an idea that also comes with Yom Kippur that it is not only G-d you have to ask for forgiveness, but also from others.
I thought a lot about this over these last few few weeks, and about how I still struggle with thinking I was disingenuous with my feelings, and for staying … in a marriage and life that I knew, deep down, wasn’t honest and where I wasn’t happy.
I realized that the one person I needed to forgive in all this was me. I needed to give myself grace for doing the only thing I knew at the time. For acting out of love and preservation and genuine care and concern for my family; never out of malice or ill will toward myself, my ex-husband, our daughter, his family or mine. I did not lie to myself and others on purpose. In some ways, I didn’t even know I was “living a lie” or know who I was until more recently. So how could I fault myself for that?
I had to look at me, at 25 years old, the same way I looked at Jackson, and have that same realization … Leah was just a kid! What did she know about life when she was a mere 25?
I came across a Yom Kippur reflection on Instagram this past weekend that said the following:
Yom Kippur is not a day of regret for who you’ve become.
Yom Kippur is the day you are embraced for who you truly are.
You are a divine soul.
This really struck me, as it fit completely with the idea of accepting who I am today. I’m trying very hard to forgive myself; to give myself that grace I know, intellectual, that I deserve and for allowing myself the knowledge that I did the very best thing I knew how to do. And really, isn’t that all we can do? There is but one Book of Life that each of us have. It would be a disservice to that life – to G-d and myself – if I didn’t honor that forgiveness and let that young girl know that she did okay, and she did the one thing she was supposed to do … she got me to where I am today.