The worst night of my life started with pad Thai and cheap white wine. It was an ordinary Friday, which meant my husband and I were, as usual, throwing obscenities back and forth at each other.
After three years together, our arguments had swelled to a point where the only exit was separation—the culmination of a slow, painful process for both of us. I can’t even remember what we were fighting about that night, but it was probably something old and rehashed.
I do remember my exhaustion. I remember my heart burning in my chest, hot like a coal. Something in me just knew we’d reached the end of the road. I knew it was impossible to continue this way.
When the front door angrily slammed shut for the last time, the echo was final. “This is it,” it whispered. There was no turning back. That night, I cried on the bathroom floor, thinking that my life was over. I was in my early 20s. I had no money. I was basically alone, living in Australia while my family was back in the U.K. I thought I had lost everything. I felt like I had been pushed off a cliff.
I tried to tell myself I wasn’t scared, but I was terrified. I couldn’t deny the fear I felt about the drastic change coming my way—my future without him, utterly unknown. I wondered repeatedly what was going to happen to me.
Somehow, an inner strength stirred within me on that cold bathroom floor that evening. It spoke softly and told me what I needed to do.
Healing After Heartbreak
There is nothing like a huge heartbreak early in life to prove you can survive some serious sh*t. For all that it took away from me—the life I’d planned, a partner, a home—the crushing experience also gave back many things.
It taught me resilience.
It taught me to be more cautious—I lost the reckless abandon with which I used to dispense trust.
It taught me to be independent. I had no choice but to become self-reliant in every single way, from fixing a leaking kitchen sink to killing spiders. I now consider self-reliance to be the ultimate art.
I learned that withdrawing from life—even temporarily—does not stop life from happening.
It taught me about real friendship too—the people who really care about you when you’re too confused and tired to care for yourself. I remember being so grateful to one friend in particular, Claire, who dragged me, red-eyed and snotty, to her house for dinner after I’d been in bed all day (I used to lie there and wait for night to come so that I could sleep again to escape my pain). As I watched people laugh and clink glasses, I learned that withdrawing from life—even temporarily—does not stop life from happening.
Most importantly, though, it taught me one simple, calm, undramatic lesson: Acceptance is the key to serenity. Unconditional, resolute, underrated acceptance.
The Power of Acceptance
Before the breakdown of my marriage, I believed in two ideals. First, I believed love conquers all. Second, I believed if you loved another person enough, you could change them. But neither was true.
Love doesn’t conquer addiction. Love does not erase lies. Love is not a substitute for trust, and love does not necessarily equate to a healthy relationship. Put simply, love is not enough (neither is sex).
I used to rebel and disagree when people said, “You can’t change a man.” It made me crazy. Wasn’t I enough? Why was I failing at this? I tried everything—talking, counseling, and even changing myself. Nothing worked.
I finally accepted that I couldn’t change my husband’s values or behavior through love or counseling or anything else.
After my divorce, I finally accepted that I couldn’t change my husband’s values or behavior through love or counseling or anything else. And he could not change mine. This realization was the biggest weight lifted from my weary, young shoulders. I was not responsible for two people—I was responsible for me.
Acceptance was freeing and, after some time and perspective, elating. As Cheryl Strayed writes in Brave Enough, “Most things will be OK eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go.”
In a divorce, there are no winners and losers. There are just people who try like crazy (as I did). I put up a fight and lost. But man, did I try. And I gained a massive dose of sobering sensibility, which has spilled into other areas of my life—from bad bosses to toxic friendships. I am not the judge and jury on how other people should conduct their lives. But I am responsible for my decisions and whom I let in.
I wish I could hug that sad, scared girl from that night and tell her everything turns out OK. I wish I could tell her she would be just fine (eventually). Even though it hurts like hell, resisting the truth and remaining in an unhealthy relationship is far, far worse.
Acceptance and trust, in all of its quiet glory, will save you. Tune into your inner voice and turn up the volume—it will always tell you what you need to let go of in your life: a person, a negative thought, a harmful belief. Accepting your inner voice of reason is the best first step to actually accepting yourself. And you will always steer yourself in the right direction.