Searching for the Better Me by Melissa Swedoski
A funny thing happened to me recently – I learned to let go of some of the baggage I’ve been carrying around for years. And when I say years, I mean almost two decades. You’d think at the ripe old age of 44 that I would have transitioned out of it already, but alas and alack, I was still taking my American Tourister size regrets around. As though carrying two toddlers wasn’t enough.
When I met my husband, I had just come out of a long relationship that was not in the least bit healthy for me, emotionally or physically. I had given away too much of my time and my heart and soul before realizing that it had been time almost wasted. It’s true that we learn things from every experience in our lives, but in some ways the things that I had learned were not positive ones. They were things that only made me dislike myself even more.
Much to my surprise, when I finally found the true love of my life, the one who would fill all the dark spaces that even I wasn’t sure would or could ever be filled, it turned out he was younger than I. Thirteen years younger, to be exact. He was full of life and fun and a sense of adventure. Life had not yet tarnished his good nature. It had not yet proven to him to be a disappointment to be endured, but rather, a joy to be exulted in at every turn. He was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
But I opted to continue carrying the baggage. I opted to still secretly blame myself for relationships gone wrong, friendships turned sour, jobs that were nothing but dead ends. I chose to maintain a facade of having it all together, while secretly feeling as though I was in bits and pieces on the inside.
After 10 years together, I finally broke through. From somewhere inside me, I finally found not only the courage to open that ginormous piece of luggage I’d stashed in my psyche, but also found the ability to share its contents. Most of it, anyway.
It turns out, my husband was genuinely interested. He honestly wanted to know what it was I holding so tightly and so secretively in that bag that it was preventing not only my ability to reach forward to a successful future for myself, but for a loving, open and honest relationship for us. For our children. For the mental and physical health of our family. It turns out that all those dark, fear inducing secrets that I continued to castigate myself for didn’t belong in the dark. They were better served coming out into the light.
See, when you think you don’t deserve happiness, and you’ve had one or two people that you thought you loved and trusted tell you that you didn’t deserve it, at some point, the rigors of belief set in. You don’t just imagine that they could be wrong; you just fall in step with the belief that they are right. And it takes a strong person to open the window and let the sun shine in and the breeze blow through.
I’d love to tell you that I am that strong of a person. The truth is that my baggage still sits in a corner of my closet, occasionally calling to me, mocking me, daring me to walk away. And some days, I open that silly psychic carry-on and let it work its bedevilment on me. I still ponder on mistakes I made, wrong turns I took, dead ends that I followed, no matter how many red flags were thrown in my way. I wonder how my life would look now if I’d chosen better paths, or what seemed like better paths. But the reality is that I might never have met my husband on an alternate path. And I wouldn’t have this life that I love so much now. I might not have the two smiling, beautiful toddler girls that we have been blessed with sitting on my lap, singing made-up songs.
Once I chose to share this inner self, this shameful self, with my husband, life got almost instantly brighter. My shoulders and neck didn’t hurt as much. I didn’t scold myself for eating one too many cookies. I stopped wondering what would have happened if I’d broken off relationships at the first sign of trouble, rather than spending dramatic years attempting to fix that which was irreparably broken.
In fact, the very next day, I started to laugh again. I started to be moved by books and music and sunsets again. I started to enjoy my children playing with ladybugs. I started enjoying the blessings that I have rather than wondering how I was going to attain that which seems so elusive. Because the real truth was that it was there all along, waiting to be allowed to come out and play, not worrying about offending someone or pulling the anchor on an already sinking ship.
And from here forward I hope to be a better mother, wife, friend, daughter and sister, but I especially hope to be a better me. Whoever she might turn out to be.