Up to that point, most of my breakthrough moments had happened on mountains, in nature, or in the midst of pushing my body past personal physical limits. Yet that day was a normal Saturday, I was walking down Union Street alone in San Francisco, and this feeling of gratitude suddenly filled me to the point it caused some involuntary tears. I am not sure what triggered all of this emotion, but here it was, a moment I had hoped for 5 years I would some day feel. I was able to say “Thank You” for the loss. I remember actually whispering the words out loud as I walked, filled with a sense of relief.
In 2008 I went through a painful divorce at 27, which I guess they all are, so I am in no way in any special category. It was a long time coming and while my marriage was over after 5 years, deep down I knew it was over within 6 months or maybe if I am really honest as I walked down the aisle. No one enters a marriage with the hope of divorce, there is a life promise made to spend the rest of your days together and there is this beautiful notion that you now get to co-create a life with someone and begin a journey of growth and love together. It took me 4 and half years to get the courage to take my then husband up on his proposal to get a divorce.
In July 2008 I was in route to LAX to go climb my first of the 7 Summits (highest peaks on each continent), Mt. Elbrus in Russia that stands at 18,510 ft. There were so many feelings running through me of excitement, fear, and gratitude to embark on a journey that I had been planning the past 10 months and that would be the start of what has now been a 9 year project expanding to the Explorer Grand Slam. It was a big moment for the girl that a year prior could barely run a mile and the big question was can I really do this?!? It was the onset of making big dreams come true. The week leading up to me leaving had been disappointing. Let’s call him Tim, was never supportive of my new love for adventure and climbing past the positive physical appearance changes that came as a result of being more fit. As much as I had tried to have more quality time together before I left, there was just no interest and two weeks prior he had for the 5th time in our marriage said, “we should just get a divorce.” The 1st time had been 6 months after we got married as he said, “I love you, but I am not in love with you.” Those words I heard, but chose to ignore, as to really hear them caused more pain that I could bear at that moment. I know, you might be thinking I should have left then, and you are right, but the thought of leaving the person I had been with since I was 16 and had been friends with since I was 9 was terrifying for many reasons, so I stayed.
Yet that day on the way to LAX, the moment of courage finally came. There I was sitting beside my partner in life who really could care less about what I was about to go do, why I was doing it, and how hard I had been training and preparing to even make a life dream a possibility. After realizing I had left my small gold earrings in and asking him to hold on to them for me for me so I wouldn’t lose them on the climb, his response was what set me free. While his words were beyond demoralizing, they woke me up to see the man in front of me, his lack of love, his lack of respect for anything I valued in my life, and his lack of ability to ever be supportive of my dreams then or in the future. Maybe one day I will feel more comfortable to be fully transparent of his response, but for right now I do not want to offend anyone in my community! In reality, this scenario had already repeated itself over and over in different forms over the previous 5 years and I had kept making the same decision to consciously stay. This day was different, as when we got to LAX I grabbed my duffle bags, set them on the curb, and told him the divorce he had been asking for was his and that we would sign papers when I got home. Two weeks later I summited Mt. Elbrus, my dad picked me up from the airport when I got home, and we signed papers the next day. I would then leave everything I knew behind and start a new job, move cities, enter the world of dating, which I hadn’t been a part of since I was a teenager, and climb many more mountains both in the literal and figurative sense.
The story is long and of course more details to tell, but they are almost irrelevant now. The next 5 years that followed, while full of adventures and the start to creating a new life for myself, were also full of pain, guilt, embarrassment, and a deep rooted fear that I would never get back to a happy place. The divorce triggered depression that began a dance with darkness, which is a dance I had tried to avoid my entire life after growing up with a manic depressive mother. While it only took me about a year after the divorce to fully forgive him for the years of hurt and disregard, it took me 5 years to get to a place of gratitude for the loss of our relationship and the realization that I was free.
We set our own worth and when we accept less than what we deserve over and over again and compromise our values, we then start to actually believe we are less. As my very wise friend and climbing partner Pam once told me, “NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU YOU'RE LESS THAN WHAT YOU ARE, BECAUSE YOU'LL BECOME IT.” Those years that followed were as much about forgiving him as they were about rebuilding the part of me that had been so broken down.
More recently this month there was another breakthrough moment of gratitude, this time on my living room floor after a meditation focused on surrendering. The past month had come with a lot of disappointments, both personal and professional, and I had booked a trip to Todos Santos to rest, have time with friends, work, and think in a different space. I wanted to be free before leaving. Like a flood came the tears and that same feeling that had come over me 4 years prior as I walked down the street. While so much of my focus over the years had been on forgiving this man and rebuilding myself back up, the things I was still holding onto had nothing to do with him, but everything to do with me. So much of the pain, guilt, and embarrassment I had held onto was in the fact I had never forgiven myself for staying in such an awful relationship for as long as I had. In essence I had failed myself. The meditation that day ended up being an intense journey down some dark places watching and feeling what I had allowed to be my norm and acceptable for so long. In the process of truly seeing, there was an opportunity for self love, compassion, and finally forgiveness for having accepted less and for letting fear rule my life as long as it did back then. We cannot place a time limit on healing our wounds. Sometimes the true healing comes from a place we least expected. While there is a pressure to heal old wounds and move past them, I have come to realize they also become a part of us in a sense, and the scars from them continue to provide lessons about ourselves to carry us forward.
There is a quote I love by Elizabeth Gilbert that maybe up until now I couldn’t fully appreciate, it says, “If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet as a teacher … and if you are prepared, most of all, to forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
The past 9 years have come with some hard lessons, led me down roads less travelled, to the highest points on earth, on a quest for living my life with intention, and with a realization of my own self-worth. I often say that sometimes while the thought of leaving something familiar might be scary, the thought of continuing down the same path is even scarier. Those things that break us apart, can be the very things that break us open, and the things that we become the most grateful for.
It’s been 9 years since I have said the words “I love you” to a partner, fear has held me back on more than one occasion, but I still look forward to that day, especially when I can now say that to myself with full compassion for what was and allowing me to move forward. This will be another day that I say thank you.