What to Remember When It Feels Like Your Life Is Falling Apart
My first thought was: I can't become a mother. I am broken and alone. I cannot mother another person, all I do is hurt people.
But then these thoughts followed: What if this eviction is an invitation? To shed my identity as a drunk and bulimic? To try on another role: mother? For the first time, I wanted something more than I wanted to be numb. I decided to accept the invite to become sober, and then a mother.
In the years that followed, I kept becoming things. I became a wife and a mother to two more babies and a church lady and a writer and an activist. That's how I grew up. I kept becoming and becoming until I was certain that the roles I'd put on were all anyone could see of me. I kept becoming until I felt covered, hidden, safe.
Eleven years after that bathroom floor moment, I had three kids, a solid marriage and a writing career so promising that my first book about relationships became a best-seller. Then my husband revealed that he'd been unfaithful throughout our marriage. As it turned out, he'd also been hiding behind his role as a devoted husband.
When I received that news in a therapist's office, I felt like a fraud and a fool. I was being evicted from my life once again. Everything I'd become fell away; I would no longer be a wife, or the happy mother of carefree children, or a relationship expert or even an activist. My activism felt especially ridiculous: Who has any business trying to heal the world when she can't even heal herself? This second eviction felt more brutal than the first because, this time, I loved my identities. Unlike drunk and bulimic—wife, mother and career woman felt healthy and beautiful, worthy of pride. I didn't want to lose these titles. But even then I knew that life will never strip us of an identity unless there is a truer one underneath.
So I surrendered to my own unbecoming.
Many of us spend the first part of our adult lives becoming—stepping into the roles we take on so that they come to define our lives. But I've learned that we don't really grow up until we unbecome. I realize now that I couldn't know who I really was until everything I'd built was taken from me—until I was stripped bare and forced to figure out who I was underneath it all. I felt like one of those Russian nesting dolls. Life was trying to get to the bottom of me.
Ask a woman who she is and she'll tell you who she loves, who she serves and what she does. I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, a career woman. The fact that we define ourselves by our roles can be an admirable thing—it's how we build a life and make a living. But it's also precarious. Roles change. Sometimes overnight. If a woman defines herself as a wife, what happens if her spouse leaves? If a woman defines herself as a mother, what happens when the kids go to college? If I am a career woman, what happens if the company folds? Placing our identity inside of ever-changing roles means that who we are can be taken from us. That is why it's so easy for women to live in fear instead of at peace. That is why we cling to our people too tightly, close our eyes to things we need to look at hard, refuse to ask questions that need to be asked. We build sand castles and then try to live inside of them, fearing the inevitable tide.
Several weeks after receiving the infidelity news, I packed a bag, left my three children and husband behind, and drove to a waterfront hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. I promised myself that I wouldn't leave until I discovered one thing I loved—one thing that spoke to my soul, one thing about me that had nothing to do with the people I loved or the work that I did. I checked into my room and fell asleep. I left the sliding glass doors open and as dawn broke, the sound of the Gulf waves gently hitting the shore woke me. This sound spoke directly to my soul—and what I heard was: This. You need this. This is something you love. There it was. The ocean. One thing that belonged to me. I realized that the only way I would survive that second eviction from my life would be to learn to feed my soul. I would have to become stronger by getting to know myself better. I would need to find more things I love.
I want every woman on earth to not only be able to answer: Who do I love? but also What do I love? What feeds my soul? What is beauty to me and when do I take the time to fill up with it? Who is the woman underneath all these roles? What does she need? I want every woman to answer those questions now, before the tide comes. Building sand castles is beautiful. We just can't live inside of them. Because the tide rises. That's what the tide does.
When it rises for you, remember—you are not the sand castle. You are the builder. I am not, at the end of the day, a mother, a wife, a writer, an activist, a friend. I am a Child of God. That's who I was when I came into this world and who I'll be when I leave it. No one can take that from me.
People always used to ask me about my husband: Aren't you afraid he'll cheat again? I wasn't afraid, but not because I knew what he'd do—or with whom. It was because I'd finally learned that if and when the tide rises and washes over this new sand castle I'm building, I will not be swept away. I don't live there the way I did in the previous castle. I am the builder this time. And I can build again and again and again, forever.
Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior. You can find her at Momastery.com.