Spoiler alert from 1997. There’s an iconic scene at end of the movie Goodwill Hunting where Will, played by Matt Damon, leaves a goodbye note for his therapist, played by Robin Williams, that says, “I had to go see about a girl.” This was based on Will deciding to follow his heart and the girl out of his hometown of Boston. He stole this line from his therapist based on a story he shared with him earlier about meeting his own wife in 1975, when he had tickets to Game Six of the World Series. He explains that he passed on the game to have a beer with his future wife. All he told his friends in that moment was, “I gotta see about a girl.” I love this movie and these characters, and I definitely love grandiose statements of love. I remember seeing that movie for the first time and wondering if I would ever find that level of connection. And yes, I know it’s a movie;-)
This is not about a romantic moment in my life but there was a grandiose statement of love. In 2020 when we all took that forced pandemic pause it left many people reckoning with their lives. We found ourselves with a lot of time and space to just “be” which made it hard to “busy” our way out of our deepest and most challenging thoughts and feelings. 2020 is when I finally moved from denial into acceptance in my own life and I knew that it was time to “see about a girl”, that girl just happened to be me.
This was the summer of reckoning with my unhappiness and loneliness and my need to convince the world that everything was right on course and running smooth. I spent so much energy portraying a life of perseverance, resilience, and positivity that I actually believed it myself. And to be clear, some of it was true because that’s how denial works. You find enough good that the pain is bearable. Then you believe that what you DO have should be enough to make you happy, or whole or functional at the least. This is suffering and I believed that I had to live there, I believed that was the right thing to do. It was not, it was a lie.
In August, when the weight of numbing and pretending and full out denial moved from exhausting to unbearable, I decided to drive to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and get a hotel on the beach by myself for 4 days. My high school best friend lives there and I would typically stay with her, but the universe works in mysterious ways, and she wasn’t able to accommodate me that week. This gave me the opportunity to spend some time with myself, facing myself. I brought my journals and my computer thinking I would probably just write my way back to some sense of normal, but I couldn’t find the words or the feelings or even a place to start. Honestly, I couldn’t even find the tears or the pain. I felt like an empty shell, and I was searching for any hint of my own voice, my own needs or wants to try and reconcile how it all got this bad and how I could possibly feel this helpless, lost, and small.
I remember sitting on the beach for hours by myself with a drink and a book that I never cracked open, just starring out at the ocean, wondering how I got here. I wasn’t clear on who I was anymore or who I wanted to be. I had been married for 19 years and a mom for 16 of them. I had been employed by the same company for over 23 years and within those walls my brand was clear, I knew who I was at work. But when the roles you play in your life start to define who you are, it can get very confusing. Getting back to yourself and claiming your own needs and wants, especially when you have so many amazing parts to your life, can feel like swimming in a deep beautiful lake but never quite making it to the surface for air. I felt obligated to figure it out, but I was still focused on others, how could I show up and be my best for them? I was struggling to see that what I needed, regardless of what anyone else expected of me, was to be honest with myself. I had been letting myself down for over a decade and if I didn’t take the time to decide what my own expectations were, for my own personal happiness, it felt like I would disappear completely. I hadn’t told anyone the truth for so long, including myself, that I wasn’t sure what the truth was anymore. I felt like a fraud, and I felt lost.
This trip to the beach was the moment I knew something had to change. I’d reached a breaking point and the pain outweighed the consequences of what fixing that pain could mean, to my marriage, and to my children’s intact home life. It was my personal reckoning, which meant it was time to face the friction that had been inside of me, for years. Accepting the feelings of sadness and loneliness and resentment and guilt was the starting point to reclaim the voice that says, “you deserve better than this, you deserve to feel joy, love, connection and support, you are worth it.” So that’s what I did, I drove home, and I took the first step, the hardest most excruciating step in this entire journey. I decided I had had enough, I would focus on what I needed and wanted, knowing I might not be able to get it. This moment was heart wrenching, but it was the only way back to me and that girl that deserved a chance to be truly happy.
Another spoiler alert, I didn’t get exactly what I thought I wanted. But I did get clarity when I finally told the truth about what I needed. This first step towards owning my happiness felt very selfish at first, but overtime I realized I was only hurting myself and those that I loved by staying in a place where the truth had become the secrets that I kept to myself, maybe even from myself. I came up for air in the months that followed and stayed committed to taking care of myself first, at all costs. The people in my life that had counted on me to contort myself to meet their needs were very confused about this change, even angry. As a people pleaser it felt like there was nothing worse than letting people down but let me assure you that there is something much, much worse. Letting yourself down to meet other’s expectations is the fastest way to losing yourself and living at the bottom of a beautiful lake with no air to breathe. You do it long enough and it will kill you. So, I made a choice, and in those choices I have for sure let people down in the process, but we are working through it. I walked away from a 20-year marriage that was not healthy for me. But the real work is still right in front of me, or inside of me. Being the person I want to be is a life long journey that only I can own. So, the grandiose moment of love was what I did that summer, when I finally listened to that girl that I went to see about.