By Laura Lifshitz
When I first met my ex-husband, I was wrapping up a period in which I saw an amazing therapist. I was working on myself and trying to overcome certain things and doing a great job, but still had a ways to go. But hey—each journey begins with one step, right?
I say that I had a ways to go because when I met my ex-husband, I really believed that maybe I wasn’t quite good enough yet and that the relationship was proof that I was indeed, good enough. If you don’t know this, a healthy relationship begins with two people who already know they are worthy of love, and not needing a relationship to “confirm” this belief. Unfortunately, my ex used this to his advantage numerous times, trying to remind me how basically, I wasn’t all that great or smart and that I had “so many problems,” unlike him, who was apparently, untouchable from problems that the rest of the population had. Empathy was not his strong suit.
This isn’t to say that he never said good things about me and this isn’t to say I was the perfect wife. I wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes of course like anyone, but that narrative was I was slightly lesser than and needed his help. Who wrote the narrative? Was it me? Him? Both of us?
I’d like to say both of us. I believed I was just not as amazing as I know I am today. I believed I needed some possible sprucing up and a dash of saving from a mythical white knight, when really, no one needs to be saved by anyone else (just themselves) and everyone needs to be spruced up! Sprucing up is a lifelong process in which we evolve as people, day in and day out, striving to be our best selves.
I had friends, interests and goals a plenty when I was married. I exercised. I laughed. I often had opinions that didn’t always align with my partner. I lived. I loved, to the best of my capability. I was and am, happy to be made a mommy.
I wasn’t a shadow of myself; I was Laura, but I was Laura, with reservations. I was Laura, with hesitations inside. They weren’t transparent to many, but I felt them. If there was an issue with my husband or perhaps someone related to him, my past “issues” or personality was thrown into my face.
I was too sensitive. I was not that smart for a college girl. I was over exaggerating. My feelings were generally dismissed all the time.
Was I always right? No, I am sure I wasn’t, but I am sure I was many of the times, too.
No one would have called me codependent or passive, but for the people that really knew me, they knew I wasn’t as confident as I should be. That my ex’s opinions of me at the time mattered and that his criticism fed my inner dialogue, and it wasn’t the best inner dialogue to have. That at times, I wasn’t strong enough to dig in when I needed to and at times, perhaps I dug in too much.
As we started to have serious marital problems, I started to sense that perhaps, maybe my ex was trying to help me buy into these ideas that I wasn’t that great.
When I wanted to do stand-up comedy again after a pause, the response was:
“Who would want to hear what you have to say?”
When I pursued a career in my chosen field that I’ve had before I met him, it was:
“You’ll never make money.”
It was always: you were supposed to change.
Listen to Laura discuss her divorce and other things she can handle!
Sure, the arts aren’t the most practical of fields, but I wasn’t talking about running off and living solely as an actress or performer. And I was in the arts before and when I met my partner. this wasn’t some midlife crisis or a trick I had played.
The vision he had for me was supposedly better than who I really was. And his vision and declaration that at marriage, I was supposed to change was clearly the way he thought it would be. No wonder he was unhappy: I hadn’t morphed into another person…he had married me, as me.
I used to buy these ideas, but eventually, I started to push the conversation in a different direction.
I will make money. People do care what I say. My writing isn’t “dumb.” I am not “dumb.”
My Ivy League degree does not mean “shit.”
Eventually, I realized that neither of us were in a crisis or bored. The marriage was just not working for many reasons.
It took the crumbling of my marriage and then subsequent, separation, divorce and life after divorce to really force me to realize how capable I really was.
To make me Laura, without hesitations and reservations.
Was it one act that triggered my empowerment? Was it simply the divorce itself?
No. It was so many things.
It was making the decision to divorce. It was going back to work. It was building a career. Becoming a single parent. Moving not once, but twice. Interviewing for jobs. Managing my money. Overcoming bouts of sickness alone. Overcoming and dealing with financial setbacks. Raising my girl alone. It was everything that just showed me that I was worthy not because someone told me he loved me, but because I told myself, “I love you, and you did it.”
There was no award ceremony and there are still setbacks and stressors, but I am still running the race. I am still doing it, without hesitation, even when I am tired.
And that’s really what I needed to learn: that nothing from my past defined me and that nothing someone else “believed” I should be was a better indicator of my worth than who I actually am.
So, I learned my lesson the hard way: you can’t be saved but you can lift yourself up. You can and must, love yourself. By doing this, I have never been so confident in my life, even in the face of serious stress. Even alone.
Like an old poster I saw in a teacher’s classroom back in the day:
I am me, and I am OK.
Actually…make that better than “OK!”
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated writer, comedienne, single mother and chocolate fanatic. A former MTV personality and Columbia University graduate, you can find her work in many places, like the New York Times, DivorceForce, Mom.Me, Women’s Health, Worthy, Working Mother and numerous other sites. Follow her on Facebook and her own website, frommtvtomommy.com.