Ahhhh, the dreaded F word.
About a year ago, I felt I was exactly all of the things that this word encompasses. Worthless. Discarded. Not good enough. Humiliated. Hopeless.
Why? Well, I suddenly found myself a newly single mother, I was recovering from a c-section, I was the heaviest and most unattractive I’ve ever felt in my life, my house was for sale, I was on maternity leave caring for a premature 4-month-old baby with feeding issues and hip dysplasia, and I was enduring the humiliation of having to move back in with my parents… whilst my resentful husband went AWOL, choosing to go out clubbing and drinking with his new girlfriend rather than spending time with our son or continuing his counselling for anxiety and postnatal depression.
Considering other tragic world events, this is by no means the worst calamity to befall a human being’s life, but within the context of my own life, it was traumatic beyond anything I’d experienced before. I found myself absolutely devastated.
The first month after my husband left, I could barely sleep, eat, get out of bed or dress myself. The painful emotions cut me to my core and the thought of facing this new reality, one which I had not chosen, seemed impossible.
I cried the hardest I ever have in my life; the kind of primal, gut wrenching sobs that rack your body, make your chest heave and leave you feeling numb, raw and hollow. I spent countless tortured nights awake trying to make sense of the ‘could haves’, ‘should haves’ and ‘would haves’ that might have made the situation something other than what it was.
When friends and family heard the news, they swiftly came to visit, descending with words of comfort and kind offers and assistance. Lost in a haze of exhaustion and disbelief, I knew just from observing their reactions that the situation was serious; it was almost as if someone had died.
And in a way, a death had occurred. The stress of juggling a demanding job and adjusting to the relationship shift and lifestyle changes of new parenthood turned my once affectionate and adoring husband into an angry, selfish and defensive stranger who engaged in repeated character assassinations of me to anyone who would listen, all to justify his own actions. All the troubles in his life were somehow my fault and there was nothing I could do to make him feel differently. On my birthday he began moving his things, as well as our major appliances, out whilst I was at the zoo with our son. And that was it, he was gone for good.
Then came that excruciatingly painful realisation that in marriage, 1 + 0 = 0. My husband had left me and the person that had once called me his “soulmate” had opted out because times had become challenging. There was no changing his mind and no going back to how life had been before. The vows that I thought would protect me from ever finding myself in this situation meant nothing.
The loss that made me grieve the most was the dismantling of our home and my dreams for a happy marriage and a stable family for my newborn son. At that moment, I felt I had failed as a wife. And even though I had barely just begun the journey, I felt I had failed as a mother. I had invested so much of myself in a relationship and a life that was now meaningless.
In short, I felt that I was a failure. Life had thrown me a huge curveball and I was completely, utterly, outside my comfort zone. At first I was completely mired in self-pity, guilt and grief, and I thank the people who spent time with me during those first few months because I’m sure I wasn’t much fun to be around.
Yet, experiencing this suffering was a crucial turning point for me. This state of failure that I had spent most of my life trying so desperately to avoid was now here to teach me some of the most profound lessons of my life – whether I wanted them or not.
Lessons about courage, resilience, dignity and integrity which involved me showing up to life each and every day even though I didn’t want to and didn’t think I could. I slowly built up my strength and determination to do this, not just for my own sake but so I could still be the best mother I could be for my son. I was also incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly generous family and friends who supported me through the worst time of my life.
This sense of failure also forced me to rediscover myself and redefine what my priorities in life were. Now that I was tackling the hard work of rebuilding, what kind of life did I want to have? What kind of person did I want to be? What was my calling, my passion? What brought me joy? What kind of example did I want to set for my son?
It also occurred to me that although my family and friends would be there to support me, it was my responsibility alone to rebuild my self-esteem, stay positive and work at becoming healthy and happy again. This was a journey on which I would have to find within me the courage of travelling on my own.
So day-by-day, over the past year, this is exactly what I have been doing. Taking care of myself. Reading. Journaling. Exercising. Talking to friends. Spending quality time with my family. Raising my beautiful boy. Meeting new people, especially other single mothers. Dining. Singing. Dancing. Meditating. Appreciating nature. Doing good deeds. Praying. Making new plans, dreams and goals for a future that I am starting to get really excited about.
So how am I faring now, post failure, you might wonder? Well, now that I’m coming out of the tunnel of what has been the most challenging time of my life so far, I can say a few things with certainty.
I am stronger. I never thought of myself as a “tough” person, but now I have proven to myself I am.
I am more compassionate and less judgmental. You sometimes have to go through your own darkness to really begin to empathise with other people’s struggles. I also feel it is important to respond to other people’s distress, especially since so many responded to mine.
I am grateful. When I began to take stock of all the blessings in my life, I actually began to see the abundance in all those people and things that I had never noticed or appreciated before.
I am authentic. I am more willing to be honest about my vulnerabilities and insecurities rather than trying to project the image that everything in my life is just perfect.
I have also come to have a new understanding of failure. From the early days of my divorce where I considered myself to be a failure, that it was me who failed as a wife and as a mother, I can now see that while I have experienced failure, it does not define who I am.
This is by no means the end of what I’m destined to learn through failure. I still stumble. There are still moments of self-doubt, resentment, anger, sadness and striving to forgive that I am working on. I have amazing days and not so amazing days. But I am being patient and self-compassionate. I have faith that time will do its healing thing.
And I truly treasure the unexpected gifts that only failure could have given me. So I guess you can kind of say that failure and I have become friends.
About the author
A Melbournian through and through, Patricia is a coffee and weekend brunch enthusiast. When she’s not traipsing about with her adventurous 2 year old, she can be found teaching primary school kids the joys of music. She is also a big fan of all things handmade, interior decorating, meditating, reading, philosophising and travelling the world (next stop the Big Apple!)