Beauty in Everything? (Original post date November 2019)
I once read somewhere that there is beauty to be found in everything—even pain. Three months ago I would have questioned if the person who said that had ever actually experienced true pain. Not physical pain, but soul deep pain, pain that literally feels as if someone has reached inside your chest and crushed your heart. Pain that is so encompassing, so overwhelming you can’t even imagine that it will ever possibly end, that there can ever be any real relief from it other than death.
I wasn’t suicidal, but the pain was so intense I truly did wonder if I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I’ve never cried so hard, spent so much time on my knees, or felt so worthless and confused. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I got up each day and went through the motions. Got ready for work. Slapped on the fake smile. Made every effort possible to learn my new job while trying not to think about the betrayal. To not think about the last months of my marriage that were nothing but a lie. Sometimes I couldn’t fake it until I made it. Sometimes the tears couldn’t be held at bay until the drive home and I had to escape to my car for release. Every night of restless sleep there was no relief. Over and over again, all night long, I would wake up and my mind would bring up what he’d done, the pain in my chest would take my breath away, and the “you’re not enough” mantra would begin. A carousel of wicked monsters, fierce and cruel—fear, doubt, hatred toward him, and hatred toward myself—spinning around and around, whispering their dark and horrible lies in my brain.
The image in the mirror haunted me. The wrinkles, the sagging skin. An ugly old woman was all I could see. A woman who wasn’t enough. Would never be enough.
Days turned into weeks. I continued going to therapy and it helped me understand what I was going through—the grieving process. I found comfort in the words and kindness of amazing friends—old and new, and understanding coworkers. But the pain never left. It had become a constant ache that never stopped throbbing. The tears continued to come out of nowhere at work, every day on my drive home, and each night in bed. My therapist mentioned her concern for my weight. I hadn’t even paid attention to it. For the first time that night I went home and looked at myself in the mirror—past the wrinkles and haunted eyes—to see my body. I didn’t recognize myself. I could count every rib. See the points of the bones in my shoulders. Something in me woke up and I knew I needed to take better care of myself. That I needed to be whole for my boys. I had done a pretty good job of hiding my pain from them—at least I’d thought so—but I couldn’t hide the physical evidence. I tried to eat but my stomach refused to accept the nourishment it needed.
A friend suggested I get out there. Date. Ha! Who would want an ugly old woman who’d been cast off by her husband? Eventually she convinced me to try a dating app. 42 year old me. Online dating. Ugh. Seriously? We sat on her floor, in our jammies, and for the first time in months I was laughing. Laughing at the craziness of it all, of the silliness of the app, at her insistence that I wasn’t an ugly old lady and she would prove it. A few days, 65 profile likes, two new men I scarily decided to talk to, and I did—surprisingly to me—feel a tiny bit better. Maybe I hadn’t been good enough for one man, but maybe I could be good enough for the right one.
It did give me a bit of a confidence boost. But the pain was still there. And I knew that it was a dangerous game, using romance to shore up self-worth. I knew deep down that “good enough” was a lie told to us by the king of Hell. I knew where true worth came from. I’d been spending years speaking to women about it. Encouraging them to generate their worth internally, not externally. But never had I been so low. So in need of validation. I knew it was time to get up and really work, not just go through the motions. I knew the time had come to remember who I really was.
People had been calling me brave and strong. It bothered me. I didn’t feel brave. I saw bravery as a choice, not a trait or attribute. I only had two choices. Crawl under a rock and die—which was crazy appealing—or get up and go to work, do what I needed to do. Which I had done. I’d survived. But the time had come to really get up off my ass and fight back. Fight for my new life. Fight for the return of my soul. Fight against the monsters in my mind. Fight against the blurred image in the mirror and see what God made me to be. He didn’t create a quitter. I was not a quitter.
Beauty out of pain. We ARE stronger than we think.
I said yes to my first date in 26 years. I made a promise to myself to be myself and if they didn’t like me I would be okay with it. My worth would not come from the opinions and validation of others. I went on my very first date with a warrior’s mindset. I think I might have overwhelmed him a bit. I was so nervous, giddy, and chatty! My last experience with flirting was when I was 15… I’m seriously amazed he asked me out again, and again, and again.
Beauty hidden in the darkness. We ARE more than we realize.
I started painting again. A mood tryptic. A piece that would show the stages of my experience. One day I woke up and the intense pain was gone. I could feel my heart beating again. I could take in a full breath and fill my lungs with air. Food was yummy again. It still hurt if I thought of him. If I thought of what had happened, what he had done. But it didn’t knock me to the floor. It didn’t result in uncontrollable sobbing. Days would go by with no tears. Dating became fun, exciting, and freeing. I could be myself and be liked for who I am. Really liked. Not for what someone wanted me to be, but for who I am. It’s an incredible feeling to be yourself and be okay with it—to love it.
Some days are still better than others. Some days I continue to struggle with the image in the mirror. With the feeling that I am living someone else’s life. With the fear that I won’t be strong enough for this existence that is so new, and scary, and exciting. But then I remember there is beauty to be found in the pain. There is beauty in the new, in the challenges I face every day, in the person I am becoming. There is beauty in the people around me. My sons, my beautiful amazing sons, who remain my greatest joy and motivation. Friends who have made the unbearable, bearable. Sweet men who’ve shown me I’m not a hideous old lady. There is intense beauty in my deepened relationship with God.
If you are in the midst of the greatest pain you’ve ever felt and you can’t imagine there will ever be freedom from it, please, please take it from someone who knows.
Beauty truly CAN be found in everything, in every situation. You just have to CHOOSE to search for it…
It may take time. Weeks or months of living in the pain before you find the strength to go searching for the beauty that is there waiting to be found. That’s okay. When the time is right something will spark and you’ll get a glimpse of what is waiting for you. It won’t be easy to grab onto. But do whatever it takes to reach out, stand up, and fight back. Go to therapy. Take that medication. Surround yourself with true friends, and people who can see in you what you can’t see in yourself right now. Because darkness is lonely and hatred of any kind is poisonous. Choose to fight for beauty, for peace, and joy. Choose to be who you are and to absolutely love her or him.
Choose to see the beauty in everything, and everything will be okay…