Do you ever ask yourself, Why can’t I be happy? What’s wrong with me? I did, almost every day, for the better part of a decade.
I was a STAHM, a stay-at-home-mother on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and by so many measures, I was lucky. I was able to raise my daughters the best way I knew how, by my flawed yet mostly loving hands, 24/7/365. I was lucky, because for a lot of women I know, this is not a choice. I know, because of where and how I’d grown up.
I didn’t resent motherhood. I loved each beating moment of it! That was the rub. The staying at home part had been an economic decision that made sense. At least at the time. But it disempowered me due to the particular nature of my marriage. On the other hand, it allowed me to listen to my maternal self, deeply. And being a mother felt so fundamentally satisfying. I loved our blanket forts, our papier-mâché masks, the cookie batter I ate when my girls’ eyes looked away. I loved walking my girls to school, telling them stories and watching them cringe when I made up lyrics. I reveled in seeing them swing on the monkey bars, egging them on to get strong, to reach, to not worry about getting dirty. Mud, muddy life, who cares if you fall? But my marriage was not working.
And inside, in the intimacy of self, I felt ashamed and utterly incapable… incapable of changing, incapable of moving to the next rung.
The facts of my failing—and ultimately, failed—marriage are singular, as are the facts of any relationship. Some divorces are friendly, some are chilly, and a few are bitterly acrimonious. What is not singular is that I—like many, many women I know—felt trapped. I didn’t know who I was. Who I had become. The marriage wasn’t working, but the alternative seemed simply too terrifying to consider.
If I divorced, what about the money? I didn’t have an ATM card. What about my daughters? How could I ensure they’d survive? I was unskilled, a techno has-been –– someone practically unemployable. (I stop myself, the word “techno” could not even be applied. I’d been home so long I was only good for cleaning, or telling friends (and friends of friends) how to decorate their home. I had become really good at that… telling others what they should get rid of).
But at some point — some critical breaking point, years after talking around myself and self-justifying and staying there “for the kids” — something triggered a crack, and the crack let in a vital light: I was unhappy staying in a marriage that was untenable, all the while it was untenable, I had been contributing to its untenability …
I was spinning, but here was this crack shedding light. I functioned as if waiting for somebody to save me when, in fact, there was no one coming to save me. And what was worse, no one was coming to save my daughters.
I wish I could tell you that the light transformed me overnight. That the following morning I rubbed my eyes and felt SHAZZAM’ed: cinched up as Linda Carter in a red and blue bustier, wielding titanium-plated bracelets and updated Microsoft Office skills. But it would take me years.
What stood in my way was the 360-degree life education I needed in order to relearn everything, including feeling worthy. Like Kim, I googled a lot back then, there in the dark. But no online class called “Life 101” showed up in my incessant searches. For me, I needed to return to school. I needed to open up. I needed to build a web of support, of friends and community, of mentors who helped me cross an aching divide of self-doubt. These people helped me readapt to the computer, to conduct academic research, to apply for a job, to pay bills online. They helped me by showing and believing in me and by allowing me to recover my seemingly-lost-self.
Ultimately, to really move past my divorce recovery, I learned that it would require more than just the black and white steps of getting divorced, or even finding a lawyer. It would require NOT just facing my fears. It would require walking into my fears — with each step making me bolder and less ashamed, with each step fostering courage. I also learned that if I wanted something more than a monochrome, empty life, it was up to me to find the leader within me. And to choose how I would live. To thrive.
Nowadays I am walking, running, breathing freely. But when I ask myself, “Am I happy?” I must admit… I S-L-O-W down. I don’t want to rush over the question, for I’ve learned that it’s about letting the question wash over me. And celebrating! Yes. YES! I say I am definitively happy! It’s been a long time coming, but I can savor the now… like the funny video my daughter just sent me (where she’s dying yarn on a stove with vegetables; she’s an “organic knitter” or some other word I have not yet learned)… or the liberating words from the doctor who just told me, “Liza, you are cancer free”… Or the deep satisfaction I feel, at last, for standing on my own two feet, leading my own stance, and finally saving myself.
Liza is cofounder and director of SAS for Women®. A graduate of Fordham University, she holds an MA in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College where she studied gender, diversity and leadership development. Trained in transformational coaching with the faculty of Leadership That Works, she is a certified professional coach (CPC) recognized by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Divorced and happily single, Liza is the mother to two, extraordinary and currently self-creating young women.
To contact and speak with Liza, visit here.