Woman: Rejected, Reborn Again

Almost a year ago, Rachel Held Evans passed away suddenly. On June 1, 2019, I watched the livestream of her funeral while sitting in my favorite chair with Polly snuggled up next to me, and I bawled my head off. While grappling with my faith and frustration with hypocrisy and double standards woven in and through the American evangelical church, her words had been carrying me. And though I had never met her, Rachel helped me dispel many untruths I’d learned as a child and adolescent, untruths that held my heart and spirit hostage for years.

When I was in high school, I began to see talents and gifts of mine stirring under the surface, pushing their way up through the fresh soil of my youthful self. But because of the church community in which I grew up, these gifts were limited, apparently, because I was not a man. I could teach, but only to girls. I could be on stage during worship services but only to sing, not pray or read scripture or preach unless the room was only full of women or kids in elementary school. All because I was female and not male.

The message all of this communicated to me was: you are missing this very important thing that you have no control over (being a man) that would make you qualified to do the work you think you’re being called to do. And because you are missing this thing, you’re going to have to find some other calling. In fact, since God says women shouldn’t do those things, this calling couldn’t have been given to you by God. So it’s probably something that you’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood, or worse, have conjured up all on your own because you want attention.

Some of these things were actually said to me, but most of them were simply implied in our church culture. Or said in my presence about other women by well-meaning church members and leaders.

To be clear, my parents always encouraged me to pursue my gifts. They were some of my biggest supporters (and still are). From gifting me a brief internship with missionaries in the Dominican Republic for my sixteenth birthday to advocating for me when a local church leader tried to undermine my standing in the church because I was pursuing a divorce from my then-husband, my parents have walked with me through this life so faithfully. But the culture we grow up in can be so suffocating, and in my case, the message from our church culture in my youth stomped out any truth my parents spoke to me during these years.

I stumbled through the rest of high school in a bit of a haze, feeling unseen by the people I loved and trusted, seeking solace in things like relationships with cute boys and unhealthy amounts of exercise and obsession over food, either depriving myself or indulging myself depending on the day. And in all of it, what was lost the most was the love I felt from God. Because not only had my church rejected my gifts but so had God. And in rejecting my gifts, hadn’t he rejected me, too?

From that time on, I’ve been walking with a limp. Not only did I feel rejected by my Creator and my church community, the people our lives were centered on, but I also started doubting my intuition. I questioned my ability to see and know myself. I questioned my ability to hear from God at all. I felt so stupid for getting it so wrong.

Looking back, what enrages me most about this is that I never considered that maybe the church had gotten it wrong, not me. And it wasn’t until I stumbled upon Rachel Held Evans’s blog a few years ago that I even entertained this notion.

The first essay of hers I ever read was “Confessions of an accidental feminist.” What started with an attitude of skepticism (because how could a Christian also be a feminist?) shifted to dumbfoundedness and then relief and then open weeping.

Evans’s perspective and her truth-telling about who Jesus is and how he treated women contrasted with what my church upbringing taught me about women gave me the permission I needed to start asking some pretty big damn questions. Not just about my religious experiences in childhood but also about who I am as a beloved woman in the eyes of God and about how God sees all of us.

The optimist in me would like to wrap up this whole recounting and reflection with a neat little bow. But that’s just not real life. Eight years later, I am still walking with a limp. But the more I read the Scriptures, and the more I surround myself with wisdom and insight from people who don’t align themselves with the complementarian beliefs my childhood was steeped in, the closer I am drawn to the heart of God and find peace in seeing who he has created me to be. In a way, it’s been a sort of second rebirth for me.

And you know what? I think that all of those years ago, when I felt God nudging me to be a truth-teller about his love, to teach about his mercy and unending lovingkindness and acceptance of “the other,” I think that I didn’t get it wrong after all. Thanks be to God.

To Hell and Back

In less than a month, Charlie and I will celebrate three years of marriage. It has been a beautiful unravelling and weaving for me, learning how to build a life with another person. Here’s a glimpse into what made me fall for him in the first place.

On our road trip to Philadelphia this summer, Chapman and I wore out some of our favorite albums. From Thomas Rhett and John Mayer to Maren Morris and everything in between, by the end of the six-day experience, we had a road trip soundtrack that was GOLD.

While driving through farmland and hillsides in Pennsylvania that week, a song came on that quite literally took my breath away and nearly forced me to pull the car over.

Smoke was coming off my jacket and you didn’t seem to mind. I left a long trail of ashes and you said, “I like your style.” Now, heartbreak ain’t a competition but I took it in a landslide. The skeletons I wanted to bury, you liked out in the light.

As the words faded in and soaked into my mind, gratefulness and grief simultaneously rushed over me. You see, when I met Charlie, I was coming out of a season of real heartbreak and loss. Because of choices I’d made – some not-so-wise and others best-decision-evers – much of what I’d known life to be as an adult was smoldering, and there were parts of me that felt as if they’d been burnt straight to the bone.

My heart was bruised and sore. But my Rescuer had pulled me out of the fire and I was fighting my way back to the kind of life I wanted to build for my kids and me. But life was really tough, y’all. I’m sure you’ve had times in your life like this, too. Those nights when you bawl yourself to sleep out of sheer exhaustion or loneliness or fear or a mix of all of the aforementioned and plus some. It’s heart-wrenching, right?

You didn’t save me, you didn’t think I needed saving. You didn’t change me, you didn’t think I needed changing. My wings are frayed and what’s left of my halo’s black. Lucky for me, your kind of heaven’s been to hell and back, to hell and back.

Sitting across the table from Charlie on our first date, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that he was deeply religious and came from a strong family, that he loved his kids and was devoted to important relationships in his life.

At least that’s what he told me.

I was ready to find the lies and run for the hills. So many people before had stretched the truth or failed to hold up their end of the relationship or ghosted me altogether, and I was ready to add his name to the list.

But that never happened.

Day after day, week after week, this handsome man kept showing up for me and serving me and just loving me. And I came to believe – after years of pain and doubting – that love like that really is out there for us.

Charlie saw me – and still sees me – as a whole person. He embraced – and still embraces – those parts of me that I don’t want anyone to see.

I don’t have to hide myself from him. I don’t have to worry if my past or my brokenness is too much for him. When my demons come calling, because they do and probably always will, he really doesn’t bat an eye. He stands with me in that fight and reminds me of things that are true.

The safety and acceptance and home that I’ve found in Charlie is something I’d never thought I’d find. And even though life is still tough in many ways, I’m so thankful that I get to walk side by side through it all with this man.

Lucky for me, his kind of heaven has been to hell and back.

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Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

The Storm

 

Dear Ellie,

I recently ended a relationship with someone I loved very much. Things were really good between us for a good while – almost five years – but over the past several months, somehow we stopped being happy together. In every way, he was exactly what I needed. Except this: he’s married.

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. He’s not married like everyone else I see is married. He’s married in the “we live in the same house but haven’t touched in years” way. He and his wife even sleep in separate bedrooms, for crying out loud. They haven’t been happy together for a long time, if ever.

What started as a really great friendship between us has evolved into a complete clusterf*ck and now I’m afraid I’ll never talk to him again. 

I’m writing you now because I woke up to an email from him this morning. Promising that he was going to see an attorney and get the ball rolling on a divorce. Begging me to reconsider. Telling me all the things I already know – that we are perfect together except for this small detail.

I’m afraid that I’m not strong enough to end this relationship and move on with my life. I have given him five years of my life and looking back it seems as if it’s all been a complete waste. I’m also afraid that I’ll never find this kind of love again, that every other man I meet after this will pale in comparison to him.

Am I a complete asshole for wanting him to leave his wife for a relationship with me? How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

Love,

Dead End Road


Dear Dead End Road,

I am so sorry for your heartache. Ending a relationship with someone you love is one of the most gut-wrenching choices to make. When I think of the five most traumatic experiences of my life, the end of a relationship in one way or another fills the top three spots.

When I was in the middle of my divorce, friends surrounded me in ways I didn’t know friends could. I had no idea how many people really cared about me until I started walking through the fire and they joined me on the road of coals.

One of these people I had known since college. We were just acquaintances for years, but even then we shared a strong connection. I was drawn to his intellect, the thoughtful way he moved about his life, the love he had for his child, and, if I’m being honest, how much he seemed to like me. He was married, too. But much like your mister. Over the years, we developed a strong friendship based on mutual respect and care.

As my divorce was finalized, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to this man. I felt safe with him. As much as one can by someone living states apart. It was probably the first time in all my life that I’d felt sheltered by a man who was not a family member. Reeling from a terrible marriage, this feeling of safety and security was something I craved.

It took me a long time, but I finally came to understand the huge mistake I was making by investing so much of my time and emotional capacity in someone who was still at least one foot in his marriage. Looking back, it seems so obvious. But when you’re eyeballs deep in feelings for someone, it is tough to see things clearly.

What was so difficult about this realization was that it came way too late. In the process of trying to figure out what the hell to do with the mess we created, this man and I destroyed the friendship that we had enjoyed for over a decade. To date, it is one of the deepest, most profound losses of my life.

Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

Dead End Road, you are not an asshole for wanting this man to leave his wreck of a marriage for you. But it doesn’t really matter what you want for him. What matters is what he wants for himself. You could be the perfect woman, everything he needs, but you will never be able to convince him to love you fully. Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

So I would encourage you to shift your focus to the second question you ask: How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

At the heart of your letter, Dead End Road, is a profound need to be loved. I can say that because I know exactly what that feels and looks like. This man – and any other person for that matter – will never be able to love you the way you must love yourself first. For me, it meant that I started some intense self-care practices that I used during my divorce. I made a list of all the things that brought me joy or calmed me or made me happy, and I committed to doing at least one of those things every day. By taking care of myself, I was able to shift my focus from the man I cared about to what mattered more than any other relationship – the relationship I had with myself.

I also reached out to safe female friends who loved me and who had earned the right to hear my shame story. I knew that these “move a body” friends would not judge me, that they would look me in the eyeballs and be willing to hear every guilt-filled detail without wincing or rolling their eyes. I knew that they would walk with me down the path to my own healing, and that we would all be better for it.

I’m now almost four years down this path, and while it has not been easy, I have learned so much about myself and about what an authentic, loving relationship should look like.

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Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

I am now married to a man who is one of the most devoted, sacrificing, forgiving people I have ever known. The love we share is rich and full and imperfectly perfect. He sees my flaws and loves me all the more. And you know what? He is 100% dialed in to our relationship. He’s not tied up in anyone else’s apron strings. He’s willing to do really tough things to love me well. I trust him completely.

The work that lies before you is worth it, my dear. It is grueling and will make you want to bawl your head off every now and then. But on the other side of that hill is a whole life full of whole love, and it’s waiting for you.

During that broken-hearted season in my life, these lyrics from a song by Mumford & Sons entitled “After the Storm” were a soothing balm for me. I hope they will be for you as well.

But there will come a time, you’ll see,
with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

I believe that all of our past experiences come together to create the people that we are – beautiful and broken and altogether breathtaking. As I’ve grown in my understanding of failures in life, I’ve learned that the only true way to be restored is to embrace them, to hold them tightly to our chest and let them shape us into stronger, softer, deeper feeling people.

You see, Dead End Road, you’re not on a dead end road at all. While the path you’re on might not be clear right now, there is so much more life and love in front of you. One step in front of the other, I’m sure you’ll find your way. And women like me who have walked this same road are standing on the sidelines cheering you on.

On my wedding day a little over a year ago, I wore a flower clasp in my hair to honor that difficult season, to pay homage to the woman who was broken and hurting and trying to find her way to a healthier, more love-filled life. Now, when I see that clasp resting among my other bridal jewelry on our dresser, I will think of you, too. I’m rooting for you, my sister.

Ellie

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.

Finding Their Voice

By empowering our children to both embrace their feelings and understand the control they have over their behavior, we are raising up men and women who will be truth-tellers and upstanders in their generation.

A few days ago, I posted part of my #metoo story along with some thoughts on what consent is and what it is not. To date, it has been the most popular essay on this site. Considering this little blog has only been live for a few months, I think that’s pretty cool. More than that, I think it speaks to the significance of the #metoo movement and how its values resonate with so many people spanning gender, race, religious and socioeconomic differences.

Within a day of that essay publishing, my inbox was full of messages from parents looking for practical ways to help their children understand consent and boundaries. In my follow-up post on Thursday, I shared from my own personal experience just why I think these two topics – consent and boundaries – are so important for parents to model and discuss with their children. If you haven’t yet read those posts, I encourage you to do so.

I had no idea what to say or do to prepare my sons for a life with so many question marks.

As a young mama trying to wrap her head around the idea that my boys would eventually become teenagers making big decisions like where they should go to college and who they should kiss and if they should get naked with someone or not, I found myself in the middle of my bedroom floor in the fetal position, clutching my insanely unkempt curls and begging God to keep my sons little forever. I had no idea what to say or do to prepare them for a life with so many question marks.

And so I decided to do what I always do when I feel overwhelmed or panic-stricken about something… I went back to the basics. I asked myself, “What skills did I need as a teenager to make good decisions?” “How did my parents prepare me for adulthood?” “What can I teach my sons now that will matter most when they are growing facial hair and holding hands with someone they reallyreallyreally like?”

I tore out a blank page from my journal and started a list. I thought of things like thoughtfulness and sincerity, hard work ethic and persistence. Once I wrote down all the things I could possibly think of that seemed like something my kids needed to be successful, I started narrowing down the list to the things I felt mattered most. And here’s there’s the top two things I came up with: emotional intelligence and empathy.

I figured if I could teach my kids how to navigate their emotional world and put themselves in other people’s shoes, they could pretty much do anything else. I’m not saying these are the two most important things a kid ever learns from his or her parents. But I think these life skills open up a world for a child that lots of others don’t.

If a child develops emotional intelligence and empathy, they will be better prepared to not only set healthy boundaries for themselves but also to advocate for others whose boundaries have been violated.

I believe that these practices – emotional intelligence and empathy – together build the foundation of consent. If a child develops these two significant, life-sustaining skills, they will be better prepared to not only set healthy boundaries for themselves but also to advocate for others whose boundaries have been violated.

In this essay, I will be focusing on emotional intelligence – what it is, what it has to do with consent, and how we can build emotional intelligence in the lives of our children. Let’s start with a working definition of this important life practice.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, as defined by psychologist Dr. John Gottman, is a person’s ability to be aware of their emotions, to understand their emotions, and to also express and manage their emotions in a healthy way (Gottman, Declaire, & Goleman, 2015). The development of this critical ability starts early in life (even before the age of four or five), and there are many ways that parents can strengthen their child’s emotional intelligence.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like in the life of an adult:

Two people get angry while driving home from work. They are both fighting mad, but one person is emotionally intelligent and the other is not.

When the person who is not emotionally intelligent returns home, his kids are making a bunch of noise upstairs like they usually do. He reacts angrily, yelling at them to be quiet.

The person who is emotionally intelligent returns home to the same scenario, but his reaction is very different. Instead of reacting to the emotions he feels from the drive home and taking his anger out on his kids, he tells himself, “My children aren’t the ones to blame for my feelings. They’re usually loud when they’re playing. Right now, I’m upset at the driver who cut me off earlier, and that’s where my bad feelings are coming from.” 

The second person took the time to think about his emotions, understand where they were coming from, and then acted in an emotionally intelligent way towards his family.

As you can see, emotional intelligence is an important factor in healthy human relationships. It requires mindfulness, introspection and self-control, and it empowers people to better understand their emotional selves and respond appropriately to life events.

Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to be aware of their emotions, to understand their emotions, and to also express and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

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What does emotional intelligence have to do with consent?

Lots.

One of the first ways we can empower our children to give or withhold consent is by helping them understand their feelings and react to them appropriately.

Several years ago, I started seeing a therapist because I was struggling in my marriage and with life in general. During our sessions, I started to gain better insight into who I was as an emotional being. For years, I had feared my feelings. I felt imprisoned by them. They made me feel out of control.

My therapist helped me understand that my emotions are actually a very necessary set of tools for my life. Feelings serve a purpose. They both alert us to what is happening in our lives and motivate our behavior.

Teaching our children how to feel and understand their emotions is one way that we can help them react to things that happen in their lives. We must allow our children to express their emotions and guide them through the important steps of labeling their feelings and solving the problem they are facing.

By doing this, we tell our children that their feelings matter. We tell our children that they should pay attention to their feelings. We tell our children that they have control over their reactions and a say over how they respond to life events.

The first step toward helping our children develop a healthy understanding of consent is teaching them to discern what they are feeling and why. As children grow in this skill, they will be empowered to communicate to others what they want and what they are comfortable with.

It is not enough to teach our children to say “no” to strangers.

It is not enough to teach our children to say “no” to strangers. According to the US Department of Justice, seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (2015). More often than not, our children are being molested and sexually assaulted by people who are not strangers to them. This requires us to think more strategically about how we prepare our children to navigate relationships and give consent to others.

By helping our children develop emotional intelligence, we are empowering them to analyze their feelings and with their voices say what they do and do not want. This is no small thing. This is life saving.

By helping our children develop emotional intelligence, we are empowering them to analyze their feelings and with their voices say what they do and do not want. This is no small thing. This is life saving.

How can we teach emotional intelligence to our kids?

Dr. Gottman gives five practical steps to follow in order to coach your child through their emotions and help him or her develop a stronger emotional intelligence:

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions. This requires you to not only understand your own emotions but to sense and interpret the emotions of your child before they get amped up as well.
  2. See emotions as an opportunity for connection and teaching. Many parents shy away from their child when he or she is acting emotionally. Instead of seeing your child’s emotions as an inconvenience, lean into them. Use their feelings and response as a teaching opportunity.
  3. Listen and validate your child’s feelings. Instead of writing your child off or chalking their emotions up to “childlike behavior,” give your son or daughter your full attention. Let them know that you are with them in their feelings.
  4. Help your child label their emotions. If your child is behaving in a way that shows you they are angry, help them find the words to express that. Guide your child down the path of understanding what they are feeling and why.
  5. Help your child problem-solve with limits. Your son or daughter should understand that while all feelings are okay, not every behavior is okay. As you teach your child how to solve their problems, you are also helping them understand that our behaviors must have limits.

If you’re anything like me, you are probably thinking, “Holy sweet fancy Moses. This is too much!” And that’s okay. If all of this (or even some of this) is new to you, it can feel very overwhelming.

It might help you to know that according to Gottman, most parents who are really good at this only follow all five steps about 20-25% of the time. What’s important is that you try at least one or two of them when you have the opportunity. Now that’s something I can work with!

A few last words…

Developing emotional intelligence is a life-long process. You will not get it right every time, and that is okay. I make mistakes every day with my own emotional intelligence and helping my sons develop theirs. Such is life. I am notorious for riding back seat of the struggle bus, but at least I’m trying!

What I remind myself is that I am doing important work. And the things that matter most take time. I remind myself that even my failures give me an opportunity to model emotional intelligence as I navigate my feelings out loud for my kids, help them see the mistake I made and ask for their forgiveness.

By taking time to coach your children through their emotions in childhood, you are setting them up for success as adults.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a strong sense of emotional intelligence and self-control. Statistically, children who develop self-control grow into adults who are healthier, wealthier, and less likely to develop substance abuse or go to jail (Young, 2017). By taking time to coach your children through their emotions in childhood, you are setting them up for success as adults, particularly in their relationships.

You are doing holy, important work.

Know that you are doing holy, important work. Know that in taking the time to do this holy and important work, you could quite possibly be saving your child and other people’s children from a lifetime of pain and sorrow. Know that by being willing to do the hard work right now, you are investing in the wholeness of your child and empowering him or her to be a bright light that shines on the darkness in this world. And I can’t imagine a higher, more noble calling.

Glennon Doyle, one of my favorite writers, has some important words for us as we start this brave journey of intentionally teaching and modeling consent and boundaries in our families: Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.

You are not alone in your desire to raise your children with a clear understanding of consent and respect for boundaries. Along with you are hundreds of others reading this who want to raise their children to make a difference, to be advocates for women and to speak truth in the darkness. We’re all in this together.

Are you ready to raise up a generation of men and women who are willing to stand in the face of abuse and misogyny and assault and demand justice? I am. And I hope you are, too. Let’s get to work!


Gottman, J. M., Declaire, J., & Goleman, D. (2015). Raising an emotionally intelligent child. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014 (2015).

Young, P. B. (2017, September 11). How to Increase Self-Control in Children – And Why It’s So Important for Their Success. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-increase-self-control-in-children/

Between Lost and Found

 

Dear Ellie,

A little over 3 years ago, I destroyed my marriage. I had already done a lot of damage to it by being unfaithful and by being generally unreliable, but that night in November was when I walked away from it. I’ve often regretted that moment since, but with time I’ve come to appreciate that it was the best decision for my wife. She is happier, more prosperous, and more secure with the life she has built after me than she ever was with me.

The most tragic casualty in the whole process is my daughter. She is the light of my life, the sum of all my hopes. She is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of humanity. I broke her heart by leaving, and even now she really doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.

I can’t blame her. For one thing, she’s still a child, so even if her instinct was incorrect, she is blameless for it. For another, I am and will always be her fiercest defender. But finally, her instinct is probably correct; I have been pretty severely mentally ill since I was very, very young, and as no combination of medication, therapy, and hospitalizations has ever effected a meaningful improvement, I’m not likely to ever get better. In fact, with other medical conditions I have recently acquired, I doubt I’ll be around for all that much longer anyway. So while I love my daughter unreservedly – and in many ways, my ex-wife – I think it was very cruel and heartlessly irresponsible of me to enter into their lives as I did. I really should have known better; people have been telling me that I’m a human hurricane for as long as I can remember.

Which brings me to the subject of my submission: I’m thinking of leaving. It’s been fun and all, but I’m quite tired and I’d like to go. I’ve been on for a while, and while I definitely flubbed a number of scenes, I feel I’ve given it my all (what a sad amount that turned out to be) and it’s time to exit stage left.

I’ve stuck around these last few years for the sake of my daughter; but lately I’ve become increasingly convinced that she’ll be better off. Nothing else has any appeal; while I get on well with all my coworkers, I have no real friends, and I can’t seem to keep any (usually through my own reprehensible behavior). I have nothing else in my life but work and whatever electronic distraction I can cobble together for an evening. Furthermore, a careful examination of the available evidence leads inexorably to the conclusion that, while I have amassed a not-inconsiderable amount of education and information, my opinions and perspectives have no value to anyone other than myself, and my existence generally serves no beneficial purpose, as what I do at my job can be done by basically anyone.

I’m supposed to have a question, but I really don’t. I guess I just wanted to tell someone, and you’re someone I’ve admired for a long time.

Signed,

Lost at Sea


Dear Lost at Sea,

On a hot summer’s day when I was about nine or ten, I helped my father clean out our garage. As we sifted through all of the mess that our family had amassed over who-knows-how-long, I came across a board with a nail sticking straight out of it towards the sky. I wondered what might happen if I stepped on the nail with my banged up Keds lace-ups. So I cautiously pressed my foot straight onto the nail. You can guess what happened.

A shock surged through my body as I felt the nail puncture the feeble tennis shoe rubber and drive straight into the ball of my foot. I remember reflexively yanking my foot up off the board, screaming out in pain, and hobbling into the house to examine the damage I had just inflicted on myself.

This childhood memory has run through my mind countless times over the years. It seems like such an obviously stupid thing to do – to intentionally step on a nail. I still wonder what in the world I was thinking because I can’t for the life of me remember what was going through my mind at the time. What I do know is that I made a decision to act knowing that the action had a good chance of hurting me. But I did it anyway.

Oh, Lost at Sea. Your letter sits heavy with me. The pain you so deeply feel is something I can identify with, at least in part. You have undoubtedly been through several acutely traumatic experiences, some of which you brought on yourself. I know how much it hurts to look back on one’s choices and examine the fallout. Devastating loss and guilt and shame have a way of rotting our souls from the inside out. I know what that feels like. But I also know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The people in your life who have called you a human hurricane are wrong, darling. And that unfair labeling of you tells me far more about them than it could ever tell me about you. Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.  What is your business is what you believe about yourself. And that is where your work begins.

I can tell from your letter that you have a driving power within you, a power that right now is mostly centered on self-hatred. In order to change your life situation, you must be willing to do away with the distorted beliefs you have about who you are as a man and instead refocus that drive on love – of yourself first, and then others.

The truth is, you are not the first person to get a divorce and watch your ex-spouse build a happy, fulfilling life with someone else. Nor are you the first person to have a strained relationship with your child as a result of divorce. These things happen to even the most beautiful and brave people because we are all messed up and do and say awful things to the people we love. Coming to a place of self-acceptance is the key to the door that will begin your healing.

Once you are able to accept all of yourself – not just the mistakes you’ve made but also the parts of you that are holy and lovely, too – you will be able to take all of it, all of who you are, and courageously transform into the person you’re meant to be.

You mention that you have been severely mentally ill for as long as you can remember. I don’t know if you’re actively in therapy right now, Lost, but I plead with you to invest in your recovery by finding a licensed mental health professional who will offer you insight and support. Through my own mental health struggles, my therapist has at times been my only guiding light. If it wasn’t for her, I might not even be here today.

There is no reason for you to walk this road alone. You deserve to have someone look you in the eyeballs and hear your story and sit with you in your sorrow. We all do. Give yourself the gift of community. Be willing to move out of isolation into connectedness. This can be literally life-giving if you let it.

When I was twenty-one years old, I stepped onto another nail on purpose, metaphorically speaking. I married a man who had proven himself to be untrustworthy and irresponsible. We were both young and had no idea what it meant to make promises, let alone keep them. I think I knew that marrying him would bring pain into my life, but I did it anyway.

Right before my father walked me down the aisle at my first wedding, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, you don’t have to do this. We can turn around and leave right now.” In his voice was a sort of desperation I’m not sure I’d ever heard before. I said, “I know, Daddy.” And then the church doors opened up and I took a step forward and he walked me down the petal-speckled aisle to the man who is now my ex-husband.

During that time in my life, thoughts of self-hatred and self-doubt played in my mind over and over again. I couldn’t yet see the marvelous gifts that I had to offer this world. All I could see was the sum of my mistakes and failures and nothing more. So I married a man I didn’t trust because I didn’t believe anyone better would ever love me. I didn’t believe that I was worth more than that. And I didn’t have the strength to tell anyone because I wasn’t yet ready to change my life.

But you are.

I can tell you are ready, Lost at Sea, because of the scorchingly sorrowful letter you wrote to me. The hundreds of people reading this right now know that, too. And you know it as well. I know you are ready because you mustered the courage to speak your pain to me; you gave voice to your sorrow. That is a brave step, my dear, and one that I hope you will celebrate years down your road of recovery.

Your ex-wife might be happier now that you two are no longer married. That is not necessarily a reflection of you or a judgment on who you are as a person. In time, I trust you will be able to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex-wife because I believe you do truly love her and want her to be happy. That’s more than millions of ex-spouses can say about their former better-halves.

While your daughter might be full of resentment or anger or indifference towards you right now, that does not have to be the way your story together ends.

I am around hundreds of middle-schoolers every day. And around hundreds of elementary students on a weekly basis. To put it mildly, I know kids. I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but I do know children are resilient and they crave a relationship with their parents even when their behavior screams they don’t care at all.

Regarding your beautiful girl, my advice is to not give up on your relationship with her. As you continue on the path of your own self-healing, you will be better equipped to love her and maintain a healthy relationship in which you both can thrive. You can’t skip the step of your own healing, though, because as I mentioned in my response to a reader last week, you’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.

It took more than seven years for me to lift my foot up off the metaphorical nail that was my first marriage. At first, it hurt like hell. And I limped around for a while. But when I focused my attention and my strong will on my own healing, it empowered me to love the people in my life – my sons, my family members, my close friends – in a way I’d truly never experienced before.

And that can be your story, too, Lost at Sea.

The thing most beautiful to me about life is that we have the ability to stand in front of our future and decide what we will become. You have the power to heal what is broken. But you must be willing to do for yourself what no one else can do – make peace with your past mistakes, embrace your whole person for the bright-and-shining-and-flawed man you are, and choose to get off the nail and start healing from within.

Do these things and you will find exactly what’s meant for you.

Fiercely yours,

Ellie

**Every struggle is different. Recovery from crisis is possible, and if you are wrestling with some of the same themes as Lost at Sea, know that there is hope for you. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and according to their website provides confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones. Visit their website here for more information, and know that while it feels you are alone, there are millions in the world who stand with you in your fight.

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.