Several months ago, I entered an essay contest. I found out about it close to the deadline, but I felt good about my entry. I know thousands of people also felt good about theirs. The winners have not been formally announced, but they have been notified.
So, I didn't win, but thought I would share my entry anyway. One really good thing about contests and submissions, no matter the outcome, it gets me writing and makes me finish things. All good. The subject of the essay was this: When did you first understand the meaning of love? Maybe you were a child, witnessing a generous act by your father or mother. Maybe the lesson came later, as you grappled with the challenges of being a friend, a spouse, or a parent yourself. Whatever made you understand love—and yourself—better, tell us about it.
As I always do in the aftermath, I see a million things I could have done differently now, maybe made it better or different...but it is what it is. I feel like I write a lot on this blog about my husband and my joy in finding love when I had given up. I always share my story, not to brag or gloat, but to hopefully give someone out there hope. I lived a long time without it, and that is a very hard and lonely place to be. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
So, here is my essay, and my dose of hope out there to anyone who needs it.
Worth This Love
I thought I had found it one hundred times before. It was the whisper of my mother’s voice in her moments of denial. It was my father’s brief flashes of noticing me in his clouded mind. It was the boy I loved who reminded me so much…of him. The one who came after and the next, all the same pain—just in a different package. Each time I quaked with relief—finally, I have found it. Finally, I know love. And then, the bottom would fall out. My mother would retreat to her cocoon, my father would lose sight of me, the boys, one after the other, would suddenly become clear to me as false, no longer shadows of pain, but vibrant in their own colors of deceit, betrayal, and abuse.
Each time I felt more alone in the aftermath, farther away from love than before, and I slowly saw my faith in its existence erode. Maybe it was all a fairytale. Fiction. Or maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe the problem was with me.
I remember so well the day I gave up. Sitting in my apartment I told myself what I believed to be my destiny: I would always be alone. It seemed out of control—beyond my ability to change. Each attempt at love pulled me deeper into a pit that was so hard to crawl out of. It seemed simple: leave the pit behind, face the facts, go it alone. Forget the childhood that didn’t make sense, the alcoholic father and lost mother, stop trying to be the light of someone’s life when my bulb had obviously burned out. Find a way to make a living supporting myself and hopefully needing no one.
And that’s just what I did. Something changed in me that day. My career took off as I focused on nothing else. Moving up the corporate ladder, I felt the pit not only far behind me, but filled. I no longer felt in danger of slipping, falling, hitting bottom and trying to crawl out. The ground behind me was solid. I chattered with girlfriends about longing for love, wishing for dates, but I knew I was just painting a picture of normal for them. I invested no hope for a first kiss, love at first sight, or even a comfortable arrangement. I wasn’t playing it safe. I truly believed I was too flawed to participate. Too imperfect, too damaged, too broken to be worthy of love at all.
I crisscrossed the country on business trips, gathering compliments, raises in salary without asking, recommendations, and glowing reviews. It was the air I breathed. Each new company event I created was my first date, my relationship, my happiness. I was at the top of my game, making more money than I could have ever imagined. I would stare at my paycheck—every paycheck-- in disbelief. Staring back at me was my worth. More than I had ever been worth before.
And I cried myself to sleep every night. For years and years and years.
The cracks came when the economy tumbled. There were thousands of people just like me—with the glowing reviews, the ability, a successful track record. Jobs were cut, layoffs became commonplace. There weren’t enough jobs even for the best and the brightest. I was unemployed. No large paycheck. No worth.
Everything came crashing down. Friends were concerned. My phone went unanswered. Why keep it connected? Unemployment scarcely paid any of my bills. I awoke to eviction notices taped to my door. Large bold letters telling the world what I had known all along.
The pit opened up again—this time so fast and with such force that I was almost swallowed whole.
The therapist’s couch seemed a farce in the beginning. A place to sit and hear the endless excuses for my failure, to be told all that I wasn’t. I sat staring for the first visits. Refusing to talk, in a standoff with the supposed professional across the room. I had given up. I didn’t need to be saved. I wasn’t worth being saved.
After a few visits, silence turned to tears, words rose from pain I hadn’t let through. I didn’t want to go back, but there I was, dealing with everything that had brought me here. For the first time saying the words. For the first time hearing it was not my fault. For the first time, beginning to believe it.
I had lost everything. That was when I found myself.
My therapist stayed two steps ahead and lit the path for me. My path. The path back to a life without fearing an unannounced sink hole. A life of believing that I had value, I had worth, I was more than the sum of my mistakes, more than the pain I had suffered.
It was a slow, steady climb. Some days were brighter than others. Some days the therapist’s couch was the only place I felt safe.
The world was different to me now. I looked again at my paycheck in disbelief, this time questioning how I could survive on so little. My life was scraped together, but whole. My life was my own, not a company’s and not dependent on the next glowing review. Work was work. Home was home. The presence of my dog Bear, a new addition, who never would have fit into my career-based life before, was a comfort. A true to my heart, not laced with guilt, comfort.
My friendships were deeper, richer, more authentic. I was almost someone they had never met, with the comfort of years of shared memories, middle school photos, and bridesmaid’s gowns. I had time to be the friend I always wanted to be, and to truly know the joy of returned phone calls and emails—not checking on me, not asking when I would ever be in town, not just a required note on my birthday. Real engagement in my life, and renewing bonds that thankfully outlasted my descent.
One friend suggested a date. Someone we both knew. Someone we had grown up with. Faint memories of junior high classes, passing in the halls. No flicker of romance then, barely an acquaintance. Definitely not the stuff of chick flicks or fairy tales.
Even more the reason to go. No real chance of anything. Just a date- maybe a new friendship. Maybe nothing. Probably nothing.
The night was normal and electric. Unfamiliar and personal. Unlike any other date or wish or figment of my imagination from my past. Nothing fiery or predestined. Just a night.
Then another night, followed by more. What I thought I had found one hundred times before, in another lifetime, when I felt I wasn’t worthy or deserving…was becoming real. I was 40 years old. I had never married, never been close, never thought it could happen. Even now, wasn’t it too late?
This love wasn’t something I created; it wasn’t something I tried to be for someone else. It wasn’t the conjured moments of something I wanted so badly. He didn’t remind me of him…at all. It wasn’t the same pain. It wasn’t a perfect Hollywood set up. It just was.
I slipped into a level of comfort I had never known. Not for one moment of my life before this love was I ever completely myself. How sad, but how beautiful at the same time. I felt myself trusting completely for the first time, knowing the freedom that is saying I love you, and knowing the words returned have meaning and are not just spoken.
My husband Shea was my classmate in 7th grade, sitting half of the alphabet away from me in Language Arts class. He is the person who taught me the meaning of love, its definition in strained moments, its beauty in trusting the unknown. He is the person who makes me laugh until I am gasping for air, who knows the secrets of my childhood and my innocent wishes for unattainable dreams. He knows the emotions behind my indiscernible facial expressions—and when a smile is masking a painful memory. He has given me a new definition of love, far away from how I had defined it before. It is knowing there is a tomorrow, brighter than the present day- even with whatever struggles we face. It is a life without the fear of betrayal, the truth always between us, and the belief that the most flawed parts and quirks I posses are endlessly endearing. This love is not regretting one moment of the life behind me because it led me here, to this place, this instant, to this dance of life I am living that never leaves one second taken for granted. Something I tried for so long to define has been explained, written for me, given to me as a gift at the age of 40.
I have found my worth, I have found my value.
I have finally found love.
I have found my worth, I have found my value.
I have finally found love.