I wrote this quite awhile ago but for reasons unknown at the time I never published it. Now I know why. Apparently there was still more for me to learn in this department. This is not a department I want to spend any more time learning in. Because what I’ve learned is that bitterness is no place to live in. But the alternative, the way to combat it, it to live with your heart broken in a thousand pieces for an undetermined amount of time. Because healing is a slow process and only happens to open hearts. I’m going through something with my ex husband now that has me crying myself to sleep many nights. Just when I thought he had lost his ability to wound me things have been re-opened. It’s a fight every day to stay open and soft-hearted. I want to be angry. I want to wrap bitterness around myself like a shield to prevent any more damage. I mean, how much can my poor little heart take? But I am choosing daily to have an open and wounded heart, so that what I am left with in the end is what I started with, a heart open to love.
Here are the words I wrote then and the ones I still hold to be true…
When I went through my divorce I made this grand sweeping generalized declaration that I would not become bitter (while the Battle Hymn of the Republic played in the background. It was very dramatic). You see, I had known women who had been defined by their divorce. They wore it like a cloak. Some just seemed to be constantly beaten down by life. They were forever victims in their story. Others were angry and entitled. They were taking back what was theirs. And then some. I didn’t want either of those to be my fate. And thus, my grand statement. What I didn’t know was that misery may love company, but bitterness also eats it up.
It started out quite harmless. Like the time I felt it my duty to explain to the mechanic the tragic state my car was in. “You see, my ex husband (emphasis on EX, my first mechanic was very cute) didn’t take care of the car. And now it’s fallen on me…” Cue sad music.
But it didn’t end there. Oh no. Somehow my “fate” slipped into the conversation with the cashier at the grocery store, my landlord as I turned in rent, the guy who delivered my pizza. I was becoming that person, gasp. The one who finds a way to blame every challenge or difficulty ever to enter ones life on the person who broke their heart.
It was depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of reason to feel hurt. And angry. And helpless. Dejected. You get the point.My marriage and then my divorce left me broken in a way I didn’t know was possible to feel broken. There were days I would rather have disappeared than continue to feel the pain I was in. And despite all that, I can still say, there’s no comfort in living as a victim.
My parents invited me to watch Les Miserables in the theater with them. I love the story. It’s such a beautiful portrayal of redemption and forgiveness. And the invitation to the movie came at an interesting time in my life while I was trying to decide what to do with my wedding ring. It was a beautiful ring. An antique handed down from my mother in law. It had belonged to her mother (who had passed away a young age.) I loved my ring, but it represented so much brokenness. I knew I would never wear it again. But that didn’t change how angry I was when my exs’ mother requested it back. I was furious. How dare she ask for it back afer everything I had been through? I had been a kind, compassionate, faithful, long-suffering (so long-suffering!) wife. I had earned that freaking ring. (Ugh, it sounds so bad in hindsight.)
Enter my parents inviting me to watch an innocent movie. And I was totally fine… until the Bishop screwed things up for me. It happened when he insisted that Jean Valjean (who just escaped prison and was already involved in theft) had not in fact stolen the silver but had forgotten to take the rest of the silver when he left in a hurry with his gift. Crap. Here was a Bishop who had every reason to throw Jean Valjean, a liar and a thief (as far as he could tell), under the bus. Instead he showed him grace. He didn’t know the man. Nor did he have any reason to do it. Other than the fact that the Bishop was a good man. It spoke to me not of the deserved-ness of the thief, but the character of the Bishop.
And that’s when I heard the voice in my head. It happens on occasion, and when it does I know I need to pay heed. It said, “Who do you want to be?” I was really thrown by this. It was all good and fine for the Bishop to show such compassion towards a criminal, but did it have to be a life lesson for me? The answer was yes. Because, despite the ways I had let bitterness seep into the various areas of my life, I still knew who I was at my core. And who I wanted to get back to.
My mother in law had lost her mother at a young age. And my wedding ring, the ring that had once belonged to her mother, was a little piece of her mom. A connection to someone she lost. It meant more to her than it would ever mean to me anymore. I had the right to keep my ring. But I realized that day that bitterness led to ugly things like entitlement. And when that question rang through my head, who did I want to be, I knew that bitterness, anger, entitlement were not characteristics I wanted to find a home in my life.
As I sat that day in the theater with tears streaming down my face I knew that I didn’t want to hold onto things so tightly anymore. Not my anger, not my bitterness. Not even my memories. I needed to let go. I mailed the ring back to my ex mother in law with a short note. It was hard to do, I will not lie. But that physical step brought me so much relief.
I wish I could say I never looked back. I never sank back into bitterness or let myself be the victim. But let’s be real, life is not a Nicholas Sparks book. Nor am I am not a character from Les Miserables. I’m very much human. And I definitely can’t sing.
The good news is, I don’t talk to my mechanic about my divorce anymore. I think that’s progress. And while I occasionally miss my wedding ring, I no longer feel the pain or anger attached to it that I once did.
As a post script, I’m currently dealing with some old wounds that have resurfaced. It’s not easy and I’m not loving it. Healing takes time. But I still believe that an open heart willing to be broken for awhile is the only option. My tear soaked pillow can testify, there’s lots of pain right now. But no bitterness. And totally worth it.