It’s so predictable to write about love on Valentine’s Day, but this isn’t the kind of love story you may expect. I probably wouldn’t have even thought to write about this, only I’ve been working on my book and writing about a particularly painful Valentine’s Day almost two decades ago. It marked a turning point in my life; on this day I didn’t even know where my first husband was. I’ve been writing about how cavernous my insides felt as I tried to figure out what I could do to earn his love. At the time I tied so much of my self-worth to receiving the kind of love we’re sold in fairy tales, rather than creating the kind of love stories where I’m the heroine of my life.
My first husband wasn’t a bad man, but I spent an incredible amount of time and energy tying to be who he wanted me to be – rather than simply being who I was and leaving it up to him to decide if he could live with that. I can recall that painful Valentine’s Day in vivid detail: I remember blinking back tears and the sensation I experienced in my chest each time a bouquet of flowers would arrive for one of my colleagues. I felt like my heart was being squeezed. I’m ashamed to recall how harshly I judged each of those women: Comparing myself and weighing up their looks and their size and all their personal and professional accomplishments, as if those things were somehow a prerequisite for being loved. In my defence, it speaks volumes about how I also judged myself at the time.
I remember driving home and how the evening light – a perfect soft pink that only nature can create – kissed the ocean as the sun began to set. I remember appreciating the excruciating beauty of the moment and questioning what was wrong with me and what I’d have to do to deserve to be loved the way I longed to be loved. Asking myself how long I was willing to wait, wondering if I’d ever receive what I wanted.
Less than a year later I was preparing to leave my life in Australia. I’d booked a one-way flight to London. I was going alone.
Here’s the part in this story where I wish I could tell you how that was my first conscious and positive act of rebellion, pursuing a dream of living in London we’d originally shared – until he decided he wanted something else – thus pursuing it without him.
The reality is I was attempting to escape, trying to leave the pieces of myself I didn’t like behind. I didn’t only want to be somewhere else – I wanted to become someone else. I pinned so much of my hope on becoming someone worthy of the love I so deeply longed for.
I’ve written before about how my first marriage eventually fell apart. How London was not what it was meant to be. How London gave me far more than I would have ever dared to ask for.
What’s obvious to me now when I look back, is how immature I was, but also, how this is just one incredible love story out of the many I’ve written since. Also, how love and the very best stories can be so ugly at the beginning, yet so beautiful by the end. In this story there were moments I believed were rock bottoms, until I fell further still. There were bad choices and mistakes and – I believe now – a moment standing on the precipice of addiction. There was also the stunning moment when I held my hands up in surrender and laid myself open and vulnerable to healing and well, to life itself.
Which is where my first truest love story begins.
Over the next few years I learnt how to stop betraying myself for the approval of men. I stopped dating for over a year. I spent months in therapy. I was fortunate to have a loving but tough therapist who I know altered the entire course of my life. When I did start dating again, I bravely opened my heart to a good man who I would eventually marry.
However, what I’d failed to understand at the time, was that healing this part of my life wouldn’t automatically heal the other places in my life that were still bleeding.
Which brings me to other love stories I’ve written thus far.
My first marriage ended and once I was finally ready to open myself up to healing, I peeled that layer of my life away. But what I discovered is that once you open yourself up to healing, you peel one layer away only to reveal the next one that’s pleading for your attention.
So I peeled away the next layer, and then the next. Some of this work has been among the hardest of my life; at times it’s felt like a Herculean feat to get to where I am today. Which is, I guess, why a lot of people don’t do it. Albert Ellis wrote, “The art of love is largely the art of persistence”, which feels particularly true when it comes to the art of loving ourselves. It required me to look closely at my beliefs around intimate relationships and at my deepening dependence on alcohol, and at my attitude towards money and how I tied my self-worth to my work and – the hardest of all – at my relationship with my body and food. Also, I’ve discovered there’s always something left to unwrap.
But this stripping away of the layers and being willing to do the healing work required – this is how we write the greatest love stories of all.
Love isn’t always beautiful: It’s not always red hearts and red roses and candlelit dinners and standing side-by-side and holding hands at the end of an aisle. Love can also be brutal: It’s also difficult conversations and hard decisions and being honest about your mistakes. It’s asking for forgiveness. It’s owning who you are and how you feel and taking responsibility for all of it. Sometimes it’s a path only you can tread.
So, today I want to say: Please tell me your love stories. Notice what you’re writing into reality with the way you heal and live your life. Allow yourself to be astounded by how a fragment from your last story is being woven into the next one. They’re all connected; none of this happens by accident. The core of your being is calling for you to pay attention to the love story that is your life.
You may be tempted to believe – especially today – that your love story is about the relationship you have or about the relationship you don’t have. Or that it’s about the way you long to be loved. And I’m not going to try and tell you that romantic love doesn’t matter, because we both know what a lie that would be. But don’t forget about all the other love stories you’ve written for yourself each time you’ve been brave enough to peel away another layer of your life, and how through telling them, your stories help another woman weave love stories all of her own.
Thank you for reading my words. If you enjoyed this post please do leave a comment, it means more than you may realise when a reader takes the time to leave a few words of their own, and I always reply.
© 2018 Esther Zimmer