Courage Is Saying Enough
Mauren Kaufmann, 29, Happily Nomad
It took me 10 months, lots of help from one persevering friend, and plenty of support from yet another brave friend to put these words to paper. I needed time and encouragement and loads of love to feel capable of sharing this story. And yet writing it turned out to be part of my therapy, something that helped me process and heal, both during and after my divorce.
In fact, it was writing that—along with my dreams of Florence—helped me acknowledge that something was deeply, fundamentally wrong in my life. Both writing and dreaming alerted me to this alarming fact, and still, I did nothing about it for a year and a half. But before I tell you about those revelations and the actions they triggered, let me back up a bit. Let me tell you who I was before I got there.
I was raised in a traditional, structured, and somewhat closed-minded community; a beautiful one, but definitely one with lots of roles, rules, expectations, and prefabricated boxes that everyone was expected to fit into. Everyone around me did their best to play their prescribed parts and never rock the boat.
The thing is, some of us never fit properly into the molds made by others.
Some of us just aren’t built that way. I only had a few fears as a young girl, but the darkest one was that I would not fit the mold that my family and community had made for me. As I grew older my instincts told me I was different, unique, but I was terrified of embracing my differences. I was afraid to say, “I don’t fit in here, and that’s just fine because I want more out of life than this little mold can offer me!”
So I played my role, seeing conformity as the easy way out.
As I lived out my life inside that “mold,” busily playing the role of the straight-laced dutiful young woman, I began to dream about my perfect wedding. I won’t lie: It was really fun to imagine every detail of my adult life and construct an idealized existence for my future self. My wedding would be wildly romantic with sugar-sweet pastel colors everywhere playing out a tea-time theme. I dreamed of having my own spectacular house, adorable kids running from room to room, and a handsome husband standing by my side.
I chased those dreams and made sure I got everything in them. (Well, not the kids. But I adopted a dog who I loved, like A LOT.) I had a husband, a gorgeous house, a secure life, everything I’d ever wanted. And I enjoyed the heck out of it, for a while. It felt fantastic to have built my life exactly as I had envisioned it.
Eventually, doubt crept in.
I remembered my early internal rebellion against the mold and began to wonder how many of my dreams had been authentic and how many had crept into my imagination by default.
On closer examination, my dreams looked a little like templates, ideas about successful adulthood that came as a bonus prize with the mold that society had assigned me at birth. I got so caught up in dreaming those templated dreams that I didn’t realize how distant my true dreams were from my carefully constructed reality.
Until one day I woke up and asked myself, “Where am I? And what the f*** have I done with my life?”
After that day, after asking myself those simple questions, I couldn’t force myself to fit the mold anymore. That was my no return point. I couldn’t spend one more minute with my prefabricated dreams, living out a life built on lies.
Even as these revelations presented themselves and forced me to confront my situation, I was filled with uncertainty. In fact, I was so terrified of my new mold-breaking identity that I actively ignored my feelings for more than a year. I really thought I could pretend everything was fine, and that pretending would shift my reality.
My mom taught me to see myself as a capable woman, equipped with the tools to deal with any situation, so it wasn’t lack of confidence that kept me down. It was just too much to handle, too drastic a shift in my worldview. And it brought down an avalanche of worrisome questions:
What will my mom say when I tell her I can’t be with the man I married just two years ago? What will my friends think? How do I make a case without a specific reason or cause? Why is “not feeling like myself” an insufficient reason to get divorced? What if I hurt him? Who will I be when I move beyond this false identity I’ve built for myself?
I swallowed my feelings for as long as I could, hoping that what had changed inside me would just change back. And when it didn’t, I slowly began to ask versions of these nagging questions aloud. And, not knowing who else to ask, I asked my husband. I started to pose these questions to him during breakfast, over wine, even in the bedroom. What if we're not meant to be? What if we need to spend some time apart? What if I don't feel like myself anymore?
But the answers I got were not meeting my needs. My husband would oversimplify my emotions and tell me, “You don’t even know what you’re saying.” He ordered me to stop thinking about *stupid* things, things that made no sense, like divorce.
So I stopped questioning and kept swallowing my feelings until I became a monster.
Suppressing my emotions made me tense and angry with him; Little things would morph into epic fights. Eventually, I started to somatize: My stress level began to manifest as physical pain, illustrating how my body was being affected by my toxic marriage. My relationships with others were affected. My mental health was affected. I kept swallowing instead of confronting. I kept hurting myself and others.
And it wasn’t until the situation got out of hand that I said: ENOUGH.
I said ENOUGH and no one believed me. I didn’t even believe myself.
I searched desperately for someone who could validate my feelings, without realizing I was the only one who could do that.
I said ENOUGH and no one understood. People couldn’t comprehend how such a “fun” couple—two people who always made it look like everything was just fine—could be splitting up.
No one understood. No one saw that I had stopped being myself. And why would they? I never said anything about it. No one knew I was suffering because I lied to them, and the lies I told them were the result of lying to myself.
So, a year ago today I stopped lying and started standing tall. I said ENOUGH, loud and clear. I built a support team that included my sister-in-law, my therapist, my mom, my brother, my sister, and my dear friends who I admire so very much. They helped me see who I really am:
I’m a woman who believes that getting married and having kids are not mandatory actions. It is just part of a life project full of love, tolerance, and agreement between two people. There’s no need for a 3rd party signed document to seal a relationship.
I’m a woman who believes in hard work, personal achievements, and entrepreneurship.
I’m a woman who wants to live in a society where gender roles are blurry and we can redefine the limits society has assigned to us.
I’m a woman who wants to be able to speak freely on any topic without retribution.
I’m a woman who’s capable of anything, without exception.
If you don’t like that dear reader, #sorrynotsorry. Maybe I broke the mold, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong or unworthy, no matter how much my unapologetic self busts through society’s standards. I’ve chosen to create my own mold now, and that is what helps me stay grounded in my values and continue fighting for what I believe in. I learned that it is not about controlling outcomes, it’s about being present for the process.
After numerous written journals and a month-long soul rehab that took place in my favorite city, Florence, I can say that:
A year ago I spoke up, without fear.
A year ago I shifted my focus, to myself.
A year ago I became myself, fearlessly.
Article edited by Sally McGraw