Truth can be the catalyst for creating a truly authentic life-a journey to finding and forgiving ourselves, learning from all the teachers in our lives, gaining peace and authenticity, loving and becoming ourselves, walking with our Creator and getting to our own hearts.
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Life, Love, Lies & Lessons
A Journey through Truth to find an Authentic Life
By Sharon Pope
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Sharon Pope
All rights reserved.
The Creation of Lonely
We are all designed to live through something and that thing was designed to change us.
In hindsight and to everyone around me, it appeared as though my life had changed in an instant; but of course it had not.
I was the young, assertive woman who always had things under control and always knew where she was headed. After dating men, through my early twenties, who had lied or cheated, I decided that I wanted a good man. I chose Jason. We met in graduate school; I thought he looked like a banker. In fact, he was working for a bank at the time. He was six feet tall, clean-cut with short, dark hair—so short that people often thought he was in the military. He was smart, needing to get an A in every one of his graduate classes so that he could graduate with nothing less than a 4.0. He was structured and disciplined, but not in a strict, narrow-minded way. He was the middle child of divorced parents who harbored no resentment toward the breakup of their marriage. Jason worked hard and was tidy at home and frugal as the day was long. He exercised often, liked to watch college and pro football, packed his lunch, starched and ironed his clothes the night before work, got to bed early, paid the bills, followed the rules, and said "please" and "thank you." He was simple and kind; he was and is a good man with a kind heart.
Unfortunately, he didn't stand a chance.
I sought him out in our graduate school classes, paying attention to where he said he hung out on the weekends; I went out of my way to be at a place where I thought I would run into him. I approached him. I knew early in our relationship that this was the man I was going to marry—he wouldn't lie to me or cheat on me or leave me; he wouldn't hurt me. I was going to make this one work. Period.
One year into our dating relationship, he hadn't yet told me that he loved me. So, like any good, controlling woman worth her salt, I gave him an ultimatum. I said that if he didn't love me after a year of being together that maybe he never would and that he had a decision to make (as if a decision of the heart could or should be left to the mind, much less a driven woman with a plan). He very quickly acquiesced and told me he loved me, and not long after, we were engaged. I began molding our lives together and creating the shell that would be our marriage.
I planned every aspect of our lives: the wedding details, the house, the furniture, where we vacationed, where we would go out to eat or what movie we would see, what kind of dog we would get and when we would get her. I decided who our primary friends were, what color we would paint every room in the house, and what meals would be served for dinner over and over and over again. I planned our social calendar. I didn't nag my husband; I didn't have to. Rarely did Jason make a decision without seeking my opinion in advance.
I was busy moving quickly through life, always trying to get to what was next and very rarely stopping to enjoy the present. I was exceptional at leading everyone around me to believe that I was fine. I was more than fine. I had this thing called life together (insert smirk here). I had all the things I was supposed to have at this stage in my life. I did what I was supposed to do, or at least what everyone expected me to do. I showed up but wasn't particularly engaged or interested in anyone's life—including my own; I was simply too busy to be bothered with the details that come along with being genuinely involved in the lives of those around me. I hid my own fears and insecurities behind a veil of sarcasm. It served as a shortcut to be able to get my point across in an indirect way (some might call it a passive-aggressive way), rather than having direct, honest, open, loving conversations. I didn't have the time, the luxury, or the courage to confront my own weaknesses or my own fears. I felt that if I ever exposed those feelings, someone else might also see that my life wasn't picture perfect. The thought of showing weakness or letting my insecurities come to the surface was literally unthinkable to me.
My life was hollow, void of any purpose or passion. I was empty. I was angry. I was sad. I was lonely. My prayer during this time was, "God, do you see me?"
I thought the husband, home, nice car, golden retriever, good job, and retirement plan was what I had always wanted and would provide me the happy life I had always envisioned. So why was I so lonely?
Lylah Alphonse, the senior editor of Manage Your Life, wrote an article in 2011 entitled, "Are You Stuck in a Semi-Happy Marriage?" She defined a semihappy marriage as one of "low conflict, low passion, and low satisfaction." I guess that's as good a description as any of how I viewed my marriage at that time.
There was no passion in Jason's life or my own. I don't blame him; that is the man that I met, the man I dated for almost three years, and the same man that I ultimately married, with whom I spent more than a decade. We loved each other, but we were never lovers. I truly didn't even know what that word meant at the time.
We did not cuddle, caress, lose time together; not once did he come up behind me while I was working in the kitchen, put his hands around my waist, and kiss my neck. Not once did I wake up to his arms wrapped tightly around me. As a matter of fact, I wasn't allowed to even touch him while he slept, lest he be awakened. The same walls I built around myself seemed to have followed me into my bed. Not once did he refer to me as beautiful or stunning, although I would occasionally be told that I was cute or pretty. I did not feel safe with him or protected by him or "taken care of." I'm not sure he would fight for me or defend me even if I was in trouble. If I was stressed, he never just said, "I've got you," or, "I've got this," and take care of things. We never made love for hours on end, stopping only to catch our breath or look into each other's eyes and whisper, "I love you." We very rarely fought. The only thing we had serious, consistent discussions about was the lack of affection in our relationship; I wanted it, and he wasn't comfortable giving it.
As time went on and my heart opened more, I began asking for love and affection from Jason. Over the years the requests became more frequent and the urging on my part more emotional; I wanted the kind of love that I saw in others. I recall going to a comedy club one night with some other couples and missing part of the show because I was so distracted by the simple, easy affection one couple was sharing. During the show they were sitting close together; he had his hand draped over her knee with his fingers wrapped around the inside of her leg. She was leaning back and had her arm around the back of his chair, touching his shoulder, occasionally placing her hand on the back of his head with her fingers gently in his hair. It was relaxed, simple, easy, and genuine. I sat there mesmerized by it, getting a bit too lost in it. Don't get me wrong; this couple didn't have a relationship that I envied. But then why was I so enamored with the ease with which they were able to express their love?
Please understand that my husband loved me and wanted to meet my needs, but it simply wasn't in him to give. He comes from a long lineage of unaffectionate men. He did try and would have kept trying for a lifetime. He hadn't changed; I had. Along this journey I realized that what I wanted simply wasn't within him to give, and so I stopped asking.
That realization changed the trajectory of my life. I knew I had to learn to live without passion and affection, and I was trying to make peace with that reality. I tried to focus on all the good that Jason had inside him, and on making that be enough for me. If I could have told him, instructed him—maybe given him a list of what I needed each day—in how to make me happy, to help me feel secure, loved, and adored, to fill that hole in me, he would have pulled out that list faithfully and tried to check every box, every day. But I couldn't do that, because I didn't know exactly what it should look like either, and I had grown tired of asking. Not surprisingly, the distance between us became greater. It wasn't just the lack of affection or the distance that was being created; it was also this empty, superficial life I had created that left me with little joy, connection, or direction.
I walked out on my marriage the Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend. I packed my bags that afternoon, while Jason was out, and when he came home, I told him I was leaving. I didn't give him much of an explanation; I don't think I had one. I can't even remember what I said, but I remember that day, that sadness and that anxiety, very clearly. He knew something had been wrong with me recently, and I think he thought I was just being dramatic. I don't think it sank in for him until a day or two later, when I didn't return home. He was hurt, badly. Six months later, our divorce was final.
Love Lesson in Truth
Looking back on the steady collapse of my marriage, I found several truths that serve me well today and lead me to greater love. Relationships and people are not stagnant; they grow and they evolve—sometimes in the same direction, sometimes in different directions. We shouldn't be so surprised by it; rather, we should come to expect it. Although I communicated to my husband about one element of our marriage—the lack of affection—I couldn't articulate or demonstrate for either of us what that could look like or feel like for two people who had never really known affection or intimacy in either of their lives.
When you pledge your life to someone, you're committing to being open and honest through that journey. You're committed to supporting them as they grow and change and evolve into a better human being, and the best possible version of themselves. I didn't live up to my end of that commitment. My divorce was the most profound change I've ever gone through, but it was the catalyst for the most massive growth period I could have ever imagined.
My greatest learning, however, was more about the life that I had created for myself. I was controlling, distant, and wearing my mask of "I got this," with great pride. If there was a way to earn a black belt in control, I would have been a controlling ninja! I had built up an enormous wall around me that was nearly impossible for anyone to scale: not my husband, not my family, not my coworkers, and not most of my friends. I had created that empty life, and the person I have to blame for this is the same person who stares back at me in the mirror each morning. Pride and arrogance were my ingredients for a pretty miserable heart. I didn't love myself very much; therefore, I didn't love anyone else very much either. Allowing someone else to know me and to love me was a mirror that I simply wasn't ready to face yet. Radical responsibility and brutal honesty were the tools that brought me out, brought me through, and eventually showed me love.CHAPTER 2
If you want to get to the castle ... you've got to swim the moat.
—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
One common theme you will hear throughout this journey of mine is that just when I think I've got it all figured out, I am humbled again and again with the simple fact that I do not.
During our separation, I very naively thought that I could deal with this one element of my life—the absolute ruin of my marriage—isolate it from everything else, simply address it and move on without impacting any other part of my life. I could swiftly move onto becoming more, achieving more. I could continue, with all other elements of my life not being impacted at all: not my work, not my friends or family, certainly not who I was. I was in such denial about the severity of what was taking place that when I left to move into temporary housing, the random items I thought most important to bring along with me, outside of the obvious clothes, shoes, and toiletries, were linen napkins, charger plates, gift wrap, and my KitchenAid mixer. I'm not sure who I thought I was going to be hosting a dinner party for; those days were gone for a while. I was thinking this was a minor outpatient procedure, when it was really open heart surgery.
Leaving my husband and subsequently going through a divorce impacted every single aspect of my life: it shook my confidence, tested my faith, made me worse at my job, and impacted every relationship I had with both family and friends. Family was confused and, although they wanted to help, they didn't know how—so they were quietly supportive. Our mutual friends felt like they had to choose sides and couldn't possibly be friends with both my ex-husband and me. Because I was the one who initiated this and therefore placed them in such a precarious position, it was I who lost a good number of our mutual friends. I was unable to focus at work—a result of not sleeping much, drinking entirely too much, and nursing a repeatedly broken heart (stay tuned). This experience shook the core of who I was, but, frankly, I needed a little shaking up.
Most women don't live in a castle (or anything close to it).
Most women don't feel happy, content, or fulfilled in their lives (as sad as that is).
Most women don't feel secure (so we attempt to control everything around us).
Most women don't feel hopelessly, completely devoted to anyone (outside of their children).
Most women don't feel beautiful, fabulous, or stunning (but we all are in our own ways).
I wanted that. I wanted to be in the infinitely small percentage of women that had that kind of fulfillment in their lives and relationships. And I was willing to work and wait for it. Up until this point, as long as I was willing to work hard, I had always gotten what I wanted in life. I thought I'd just work hard and would ultimately get what I want. I wanted what I called "big love." I didn't want the ordinary, everyday, semi-happy love.
We can't isolate one part of our lives—certainly not something as central as marriage—fix it, and move on. The collapse of any marriage is caused by something much greater that we admit to initially, and that thing that is broken permeates and infects, not just the marriage, but all other aspects of life as well.
When I look back on my married life, I don't like myself very much. I was unhappy, distant, full of self-doubt, and fearful. I wasn't real; I certainly wasn't living an honest, authentic life. I put up a facade for everyone around me. I didn't recognize or embrace my own heart and therefore never let anyone in too far, for fear of what they might see. I also avoided meaningful conversations that might allow me the privilege to really know others.
There were probably hundreds of occasions where we had invited family over to our home to share a meal together. During those times, you would find me in the kitchen being busy preparing the meal. Even during dinner I always had something in the oven, dishes to clear from the table, a dessert to prepare, a dog to monitor. I kept myself busy to avoid sitting across from someone and being fully present in that moment. I was so fearful of being seen myself, that I never truly wanted to see anyone else. I was critical of others, even family members (particularly his family). I kept moving, kept striving, kept reaching—without even knowing what I was reaching for or whom I had left behind in the process. What a sad existence.
None of that, by the way, had anything to do with my husband or his family. That was all me. Therefore, it was mine to heal.
Love Lessons in Truth
I didn't know who I was. I didn't recognize my own heart. I couldn't have picked it out of a lineup if I had to. And I didn't like myself very much. So how could I possibly open myself up and share who I really was with anyone else? This created an unspoken but understood barrier between me and virtually everyone else in my life. It was easier for me to sit there behind my wall in my sadness than to admit it, face it, and heal it. I needed to discover who I was—in a relationship, out of a relationship, in my career, in my friendships, in my own skin.
Excerpted from Life, Love, Lies & Lessons by Sharon Pope. Copyright © 2014 Sharon Pope. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Love Lessons in Truth, 1,
Chapter 1 The Creation of Lonely, 3,
Chapter 2 The Truth, 11,
Chapter 3 Playing with Fire, 17,
Chapter 4 Reflections of Brokenness, 23,
Chapter 5 You're off the Hook, 27,
Chapter 6 In Love with Possibility, 33,
Chapter 7 My Heart, 37,
Chapter 8 Affection and Connection, 43,
Chapter 9 Expectations, 49,
Chapter 10 It's Always about Us, 53,
Chapter 11 The Test, 59,
Chapter 12 Vulnerability Is Not a Four-Letter Word (But Control Should Be!), 65,
Chapter 13 Honor and Cherish, 73,
Chapter 14 Love, 77,
Life Lessons in Truth, 85,
Chapter 15 Here I Am, 87,
Chapter 16 Next, Next, Next, 93,
Chapter 17 The Voice, 97,
Chapter 18 Sometimes I Scare Myself, 103,
Chapter 19 New Neighbors, 111,
Chapter 20 The Glorification of Busy, 117,
Chapter 21 Get Real, 125,
Chapter 22 The Mirror and the Demons, 131,
Chapter 23 Courage, 139,
Chapter 24 Light, 145,
Chapter 25 Still, 151,
Chapter 26 Bubble Wrap, 159,
Chapter 27 Enlightenment, 165,
Chapter 28 Faith, 171,
Chapter 29 Angels, 179,
Chapter 30 Authenticity, 187,