I started my 40’s a decade ago with a kick-ass, blow-out party that my then-husband threw for me. It was the best party I had ever been to, and that’s still the case. My kids were 5 and 9. My marriage, I thought, was solid. I was looking forward to continuing our life as a family and partnering in getting the kids raised. As my 40’s wind down this year, I look back over the past decade and am amazed at all that has changed. What’s changed? Let’s take a look.
- My son was diagnosed with autism. He was 6 and had just started Kindergarten. At the time, it was the hardest news I’d ever received. Had I done something to cause it? Could we “fix” it? I worried and fretted and did what moms do – everything within my power to help him. I have come to accept and appreciate his difference. He’s one of the most joyful people I know, and everyone who knows him loves him. His autism is only a part of who he is.
- I quit alcohol. I’ve written about this frequently, and it was one of the biggest changes the past decade brought. I stood firm in my choice as my life fell apart, and I’m proud of that. There are many days I’ve said, “Damn, I quit drinking in the wrong decade!” It was a mature, healthy choice for me though. I’m not sure if this will be a lifelong abstinence or not, but for now, sobriety is working for me.
- My husband had an affair and left. This was by far the biggest, hardest change in my life. I learned that just because you love someone more than anything doesn’t mean they reciprocate those feelings. I learned that people leave. I learned that they can be cruel even as they tell you they love you. My heart broke and will never, ever be the same. I learned, though, that if I could survive that, I can survive just about anything. I’ve tried to find the blessings in the heartbreak.
- People have left my life – or I have left theirs. Besides the man I was married to, I lost some friends along the way. In the middle of trying to keep my family together, I couldn’t be the kind of friend some people wanted or needed me to be. I had to be OK with letting them go. Once I love you, I’m pretty hard to get rid of, and I value my friendships. It made me sad to lose these people. I had to take care of myself at that time, and I’m sorry if I hurt them.
- I learned about true friendship. Crises bring out the best and the worst in people. I had a “friend” who was carrying on an inappropriate relationship with my ex behind my back and her husband’s back. Someone else was irritated by my discussing my divorce at a gathering. But I also had a friend I could call any time who always talked sense into me and made me laugh about my ridiculous situation. I made a new friend who was going through a similar life change who has become an ally and confidante. I had friend who drank lattes and ate cookies with me on the regular. I had a friend who made sure I ate. I had a friend I hadn’t seen in years come see me and shower me with light and hope. And I had numerous friends who listened to my crap, held my hand, and picked me up time and again. These people far outnumber the ones who really didn’t care, and I am forever grateful for their friendship.
- I survived. Honestly? I consider this the biggest accomplishment of my 40’s. I wanted to die during all that drama and trauma. I can say that now that the time has passed, but I didn’t dare speak it when I was in it. That Dark Place is lonely and scary as hell. If it weren’t for my children, I’m not sure I’d be here. It sounds ridiculous to say that now, but it’s true. I broke. I survived.
- I started healing. I found ways to take care of my head, heart, and health. I got into a routine with my kids that helped us all find our way to a new normal. My home became my sanctuary and place of peace. I read, I slept, I prayed, I journaled. I found beauty in whatever I could, I appreciated the little things. I started to believe I was going to be OK. It’s been a long process, and I don’t think I will ever be fully healed, but I am living proof that you can survive a broken heart.
- My daughter became an adult. She was 13 when our lives turned upside-down. It was a horrible time in our home, but this girl continued to make excellent grades and hold it together. She saw her mother break, and I’m sure that was scary. She is empathetic almost to a fault and has some challenges because of it. As I watch her navigate life after high school, I am so proud of how she is learning to really advocate for herself and take care of herself. She is the product of both a stable, two-parent household and a single-woman household. She has learned lessons that will serve her as she continues down life’s path, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
- I re-ignited my teaching career. I was a stay-at-home-mom for 18 years. I know how lucky I am to have been able to do that. When shit hit the fan, though, it didn’t seem so lucky. I got my professional credentials up to par and begin substitute teaching last fall. I’m excited to be back among students, and it’s nice to be getting a paycheck for the work I do again. I’m hopeful that a full-time position will open up for me this fall.
- I met a man who has taught me that a stitched-up heart can love again. For a while, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a partner again. With two marriages behind me, I wasn’t sure if anyone would want me as a partner. After a lot of thought and soul-searching, I knew that having someone to share my life with mattered too much to ignore. And after just a few uneventful dates with others, I met someone who really gets me. His love and understanding have been the best gifts. And besides that, we have fun together!
I could dwell on what I’ve lost over the past ten years, and no one would blame me. But really, I’ve gained so much – so much understanding and strength, knowledge and confidence, empathy and grace. I think about the decades in my life. The first ten were childhood, the second ten were adolescence, my 20’s were about college and learning to adult, my 30’s were about having my babies and raising young children, and my 40’s were about incredible heartache and recovery.
My 40’s were by far the most difficult. My 40’s are the decade I would never want to relive, but I know I’m a better person for having stuck them out and continued on. It wasn’t always easy. It’s weird to be at point in life where I can look back, chunk my life into decades, and see themes. It’s amazing to me how much can be crammed into one lifetime even when you’re not even trying to do that.
As I stand on the threshold of a whole new decade, I know that I likely have more days behind me than I do ahead. I don’t know what’s in store for me. Life has taught me that you can be the world’s best planner, and things can fall to shit overnight. I’ve learned, though, that it’s my response that really matters. I came out the other side stronger and smarter. I’m still learning and growing.
I stand here looking 50 right in the eye. You know what she sees?
My eyes sparkling with anticipation and hope.