My husband and I saved our wounded marriage this year. Several of my closest friends dissolved their own. Each one of us is in a much healthier, happier, more authentic, and more empowered place than we were a few years ago, and each one of our healing journeys began with roughly the same realization:
Sweeping it under the rug is no longer working for me.
Many of my clients have created powerful change in their lives during our time together. They’ve breathed new life into struggling businesses, overcome limiting beliefs, crawled out from beneath oppressive relationships, engaged in courageous conversations, formed empowering new habits, learned to communicate in ways that helped them feel heard and understood, discovered gifts they didn’t know they had, braved bold career moves, traded guilt for self-awareness and compassion, and connected more deeply with their children. Each one of their life-changing journeys began with roughly the same realization:
Sweeping it under the rug is no longer working for me.
“It” can mean any number of things that we tend to keep hidden: hurt, shame, resentments, dreams, disappointments, self-doubt, fears, needs, longings, truths, or desires. Most of us began our sweeping habits when we were young, as unconscious efforts to feel accepted, loved, and approved of. As our lives have unfolded, this habit (whether it’s served us well or not) still often feels safer, easier, and less messy in the moment than any alternative.
But because truth doesn’t belong under rugs, and playing it safe means playing small, the more unexamined stories we accumulate, the more disempowered, disconnected, confused, and limited we tend to feel.
Though our stories and challenges vary greatly, our turning points often look the same. The circumstances of our lives reach a critical mass, push us to the edge of our edges, and awaken something deep within us. This something; this tiny, most timid of truths, whispers to us in the form of a feeling:
It matters, because I matter.
Whether we want them to or not, truths don’t just go away, and until they are given their proper place in the light, they cause us pain, drain our energy, and keep us longing. To deny the truth of our needs, desires, hurts, disappointments, and dreams is to abandon ourselves. And self-abandonment is among the most intimate forms of pain we’ll ever know.
No matter how beautiful a rug we’ve woven, how good we are at tidying around it, or how tucked away we’ve managed to keep it, the things we’ve swept beneath it affect us every day, in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways. As much as I wish it weren’t true, they also affect those we love.
We’re not often encouraged to sort the messier aspects of our lives in the light. We may never have been given permission to own the fullness of our stories. But as Brené Brown explains so beautifully, “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences.”
I was given many opportunities to tell the full truth about my dissatisfaction in my marriage. For years I settled for partial truths because I wasn’t ready to face the potential consequences of saying, “This isn’t working for me.” But the more I grew to know myself, respect myself, and eventually love myself, the less capable I was of partial truth telling.
It was either shake out the rug, or live in utter misery, and a miserable existence is not the choice I make for those I love.
I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what you’ve hidden, how long it’s been there, or where you store your most tender, vulnerable truths. But I do know the following:
- You are worthy of a life you love exactly as you are.
- Healing is less painful than hiding.
- Your truth doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.
- You’re stronger, wiser, and braver than you realize.
- All emotions are valid and deserve safe places to be processed.
- Doing the work feels better than fearing the work.
- To deny our darkness is to limit our strength.
- Pain is a part of life. Suffering doesn’t have to be.
- Self-abandonment wrecks relationships.
- Asking for support is not only a gift to you, but to those who support you.
- You’re not meant to go it alone.
- Not a single person who’s ever dared greatly had the luxury of a certain outcome.
Those three women at the top of the page? Not one of us knew what we were getting into when we decided to stop denying our pain, needs and desires. My dear, brave Carly didn’t say, “Sign me up for single parenting!” She said, “My heart can’t take this anymore,” and slowly shown light into the shadows.
Carly found her power in those shadows.
My dear, determined Anna didn’t say, “I’ve got it all figured out.” She simply said, “This isn’t how my story goes,” and slowly stepped her way back to thriving.
Anna took her joy back from those shadows.
And though healing together was our fate, Hunter and I didn’t know that when we said, “No more partial truths,” and “This version of us ends here.” Risking the marriage was the only way to save the marriage.
We rescued our tattered hearts from those shadows.
For all the challenges these past few years have brought me, the gifts have been just as many: friendships deepened to crazy-beautiful depths, work that feeds me to my core, self-awareness, connection, peace, joy, and yes, a marriage I’m finally comfortable leaning into. But of all the gifts I’ve been given, the one I treasure most is an awareness that began with a whisper:
My heart knows the way and can be trusted.
It just doesn’t see well in the dark.
Dear women with hurting hearts: Your truths and desires matter, too, however tender or obscured they may be. Also, you don’t have to suffer alone. We all need process people in our lives to hold a lantern during dark, disorienting times. There’s someone out there to help you through. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel that person may be me.