I didn't save my marriage. I saved myself.
Five years ago, I wrote "He said he was leaving. She ignored him." A lot has changed since.
You never really know where life will lead you, but if you live with pure intention and feed what you love with all your might, consistently and honestly… you might find yourself in places you'd never dreamed you'd go.
That happened to me in 2009 when I published the essay version of a memoir I'd written in The New York Times' Modern Love column. The entry point was a marital crisis, but the book and the essay were not really about marriage. They were about being responsible for your own well-being no matter what's going on in your life. They were about focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest. And they were about powerfully choosing to not play emotional victim to the things that others say and do to you.
The book (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is) became a New York Times and international best-seller, and that essay went viral. Today, five years later, the essay is having a resurgence all over the internet, particularly here at The Week, where thousands of people have made comments, and over 200,000 people have shared it on Facebook. That number is increasing by thousands every hour. (At this moment of writing, on May 30, it's at 214,000. When I finish this post, if it is going the direction it's been going, we could be at 222,000, and I write fast!) It has been the top read article for days on The Week, sparking blog posts and ribald conversation on social media.
Normally, I don't follow this sort of stuff. I'm a writer and a mother and those things take up most of my time. I've learned that media often manipulates the meaning of my message and unfortunately a lot of the press I've gotten spins my essay/book to make it about how a woman saves her marriage. But it's not about that. It's about saving yourself. Turns out, people aren't easily open to that message. People are used to playing the emotional victim, and society re-enforces that. I see things another way, and when you offer new solutions, people oftentimes not only don't want to hear them, they go on attack mode. I don't have much room for that. I wrote that essay and that book to help myself process a difficult time in my life, and I wrote it to help others do the same. It has helped people all over the world and when I wonder whatever possessed me to be the main character in a book (I normally write fiction), I take heart in the knowledge that I have been true to my author's statement: I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others. If I have helped one person out there, then it's all worth it. And I've heard from thousands of people who tell me my writing has done just that.
I walked a line of integrity throughout the whole experience of book promotion, not exposing my family outside of their comfort zone, not naming names, and turning down major media when my gut told me that it wasn't right. And I mean MAJOR media. My message never has been about staying in a relationship. It's about taking care of yourself and stepping outside of emotional suffering to do so. Moment by moment. Thought by thought. Breath by breath. Stepping into the most powerful question I know and that's: What can I create? You don't have to suffer, even under fierce rejection. Even when your spouse says, "I don't love you anymore." I'm here to tell you — this is the exact time to find the greatest emotional freedom of your life! You don't have to take that personally! Nor do you have to take "You're fired" personally. Or "You're a jerk" or "You didn't win the prize." These are just words. I'm not always good at it, but it's a practice I'm dedicated to because it works. It's truth. I own what there is to own, set boundaries for myself, and mind my own business. It's actually easy once we gain the self-awareness that it's possible to choose our own happiness no matter what's going on in our lives. And that usually begins with getting in touch with our own self-talk. Most of us speak to ourselves ten times worse than we'd speak to our enemies!
That's new news to a lot of people and so now I find myself in the Wellness realm, speaking about the subject of non-suffering through self-awareness and creative self-expression at conferences and at my Haven Retreats, and I'm happily working on three books that have nothing to do with marriage. I have moved on from that time in my life, and while the end of the essay and the book leave my marriage in a place of healing, that marriage needed to end, and it did. Again, it was never about staying together. It was about taking care of yourself in a time when society says that you should suffer greatly, fight, splay yourself supplicant. I refused to do that. I felt that it was his crisis, and my job was to focus on what I could control and let go of the rest, which included the outcome of my marriage. I gave myself a stopping point. And eventually we stopped. And now we are divorced. Amicably. We are on to new chapters. All the players are thriving. And I've been given the opportunity to re-live the messages in my book/essay from a new angle. They still apply and they are still lifelines. And I can say that I know, without a doubt, that happiness is within. I'll leave it at that.
But in the light of this break-neck resurgence of that small essay I wrote what seems a lifetime ago, I am moved to respond to a few things that might help you wherever you are in your lives — in a crisis, post-crisis, free zone. With the recent inundation of intimate, bleeding emails these last few days, for the most part about a painful marriage…thanking me for my essay on The Week, which indeed provided relief for people, and perhaps a new way of looking at life…I am moved to investigate this phenomena of the collective We.
We are in pain.
We are looking for hope.
We are looking for empowering messages.
We are looking for these things from every-day people.
We want to know that We are not alone.
We want to re-invent our relationship with pain.
We want to know that to fight is not always the best way to win.
We want to know that the only real winning is in our ability to step outside of suffering and into emotional freedom.
We want to know that we can powerfully choose our emotions.
We want to know that no one can really make us mad or sad or feel guilty. Or even happy.
We want to know that life is daily and that we don't have to go to the top of the mountain to find enlightenment. It's right where we stand. Even at our kitchen sink.
We want to feel connected to our loved ones, but sometimes the best way to connect is by stepping out of their way.
We have forgotten the power of deep breathing. A long walk. Candlelight. A hot bath. A singular flower in a vase on our nightstand.
We have forgotten that pain can be a terrific guide when we breathe into the groundlessness of it.
We have forgotten that life is about endless possibility. And endless Yes. And THAT'S where the real power lives.
Writing helps. I have used my writing to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life since I was a child. I did it in my published memoir and essay so many people have read, are re-reading, or reading for the first time and sharing with their loved ones.
It's for precisely this reason that I started Haven Retreats, which were recently listed in the top five in the country! Now I help others dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page. I invite you to write your way through the difficult times in your life. You never know what might happen…
One hour later. 219,000 shares. We are 5,000 hungry for these messages and counting…
Note: As of June 4, 2014 there are now over 300,000 shares here at The Week. So it looks like we're in this together!