As women, we are taught, from a very young age, that love is the final destination, the most important goal we can aspire to meet, the focus of our lives. And when we find that love, we are taught to hold on, to sacrifice, to fight. Five years ago, I fell in love. Madly, blissfully in love. I moved from Seattle to Las Vegas for this love and was happier than I had ever been, until I wasn’t. And, let me tell you, there were times I really, really wasn’t. But what did I do? That’s right, I held on, I sacrificed, I fought. Looking back, I can tell you that I fought harder for that relationship and that man than I ever have for anything in my life.
Truth be told, I am both proud and deeply ashamed of my relationship saving heroics. I was like an over-eager teenage lifeguard, blowing my whistle and clumsily flinging myself into the deep end over and over again. By the end of my relationship, I accepted behavior that was nothing short of unacceptable and skillfully disguised my days to mask the pain that had become constant. With coworkers, and sometimes even friends and family, I never presented anything less than the silver lining. I was jazz hands and jokes, big smiles and excuses. But in the quiet of the night, after I had put my newborn baby to sleep and was alone on the couch yet again, I knew the relationship I was in was unrecognizable to the one I had started with this man years earlier. But still, I fought. With clenched fists and held breath, I fought for a man I still deeply loved and for a life I knew was so much less than I deserved. And I resigned myself to the hurt that had become so familiar and the lies I had almost convinced myself I believed to avoid the grief of dismantling the last five years and letting go of a love that had once been my greatest joy.
Perhaps I would have fought forever, would have let the light in my face and in my heart fade even more, but I am here to tell you that everyone has a breaking point. We all have a voice, one that has likely been ignored far too long, that finally says no more. I may never forget that night in April when the voice inside me howled, “Not this. You can’t forgive this” and, somehow, I heard it. With shaking hands and tears streaming down my face, I dragged myself out of bed, marched into the living room with a resoluteness that felt foreign in my body, pulled out my laptop and logged onto Facebook. That’s right, I was a 35 year old mother going through the heartbreak of my life and Facebook is where I turned. After a few clicks of my keyboard, there it was. “Kathleen is no longer in a relationship.” I looked at those words, those words I had been so terrified of and felt a relief I could never have anticipated. I sat there staring at my laptop and felt what our girl Whitney was singing about back in ’95. Yes, I sat there and exhaled. Unclenched my fists and let go.
Four months later, the woman who looks back at me in the mirror is smiling again. Although the light is back in my face, I’m tired and there are lines around my eyes that weren’t there before. But there is also a strength I have never seen in my own reflection. And while I may be at the very beginning of my new beginning, I feel such peace in finally letting go.