“Allow yourself to be proud of yourself and all the progress you’ve made. Especially the progress no one else can see.” ~Unknown
I watched my then-four-month-old daughter wiggle around on the floor on her belly, arms flailed out to the side in her pink-footed pajamas, giggling hysterically. Her brother, four years old at the time, was launching himself from our king size bed onto a pile of pillows next to her, over and over. He’d land with a thud and a loud “oof,” cracking himself up,and she would break out in hysterics right with him.
I heard my voice in the background of the video, light-hearted and sweet, encouraging them both: “Look at you two! Look at you making her laugh. Isn’t he such a great big brother, cutie. Look at you!”
I didn’t sound like me. I sounded like an actress in a movie playing a part.
I went down the rabbit hole of watching video after video of my kids when they were just babies, which was housed on an old hard-drive I kept in a drawer hidden away. I hadn’t taken that drive out in a long time.
Too many memories. A time in my life I try to forget.
But there it was, beckoning me back. Inviting me to take a painful trip down memory lane, which I now feel was no accident because sometimes we have to look backward to see how far we’ve come.
My kids are now almost fourteen and ten years old. They still play the same roles as in that old video. My son often doing something idiotic and funny to make his sister laugh out loud. Her looking at him with adoration and love.
If someone could hear my voice now when I talk to them, though nobody is here anymore to hear it, it would sound light-hearted and sweet, laughing along with the two of them most days when they aren’t driving me crazy. I’m no longer playing a part, but still I secretly guard the story around what happened at that time in our lives that forced me to ever pretend at all.
I wept watching those videos that night, a profound sadness I hadn’t felt in a long time working its way up the hidden chamber of my soul. Friends who carried me through that period of time will often say, “Oh my God, that was awful. You were a mess.”
My friend Patrick, who came into my life not long after those videos were taken, said, “Dina, you were not well during that time. I mean, it was painful to watch. You’re a completely different woman today because of what you went through. I think you should talk about it.”
“No,” I said emphatically. “I don’t need to talk about it. That’s in the past. I’m different now. Why dredge it up?”
Except we don’t help each other when we don’t share our experiences. We can’t heal or give others hope that they too can heal when we’re not willing to go to the dark places; the ones that may be in the past but have left a scar reminding us of how far we’ve come.
Scars are just reminders of the wound. They don’t define us.
So, rewind the video… I had just had my second child, a baby girl I’d longed for. We were the perfect family, parents to a boy and a girl, both of us working glamorous jobs at movie studios in Los Angeles. With a nice house in the burbs. I was wildly in love with my husband at the time. Life was perfect.
Until it wasn’t. I found out just a few months before my daughter was born that he was having an affair. Some gorgeous blonde at the office. Younger than me, everything I wasn’t. All the cliché things.
I thought I could hold our perfect life together. Nobody had to know. I didn’t tell my family. I confided only in my closest friends, who became the army who carried me through the unbearable days, talked me through the panic attacks when I was hyperventilating on the floor, then came to sleep at my home and carry on a round-the-clock vigil when he moved out to be with her on my son’s fourth birthday.
I felt decimated. I was decimated. Here I was with a new baby only four months old and a four year old. My family lived across the country. My life in pieces. It felt like my heart had stopped beating.
It was a long road to healing and forgiveness. There are people I know who never get there, who allow the wound to stay open, bleeding; in pain, stuck, and feeling they can’t forgive and move on.
But I wanted to forgive. I wanted my peace, my power, and my own happiness more than I wanted to be right. I wasn’t going to let one person take everything away from me or allow one moment in time to define my life and my future happiness. But boy, did I want to stay in my story for a period of time.
The cliché of believing he left because she was younger and prettier than me and that I wasn’t enough. Thinking his leaving meant I would never be enough for anyone.
That was a bullshit story that wasn’t true, and if anyone is in it now, I promise you that someone leaving you is an invitation to rise up and become everything you already are but don’t know you can be.
It took years for me to truly move on in a way that felt real. Because I did all the things within the first few years that made me look like I was doing just fine but wasn’t. I dated and had a few relationships. I continued to succeed at work, building my own business, and accepted every social invitation that came my way, all while taking care of two kids.
I pretended that when I saw him with her, I was doing just fine.
But I wasn’t. I hated him for what he did to me, and I loathed her. I was jealous, angry, and depressed. I hid my struggles and real feelings behind a fake-it-till-you-make-it confidence I didn’t really feel and filled my days with distractions from morning till night so I would never feel alone.
It wasn’t until I got honest with myself and really did the work that I started to thrive. My end game was forgiveness. Without it, I was locked in a prison of anger, resentment, and pain. I knew I needed to forgive myself first for not seeing what was right in front of me, my ex for not loving me the way he promised when we exchanged vows, and the other woman who I blamed for the ending of my marriage.
I found a great therapist, dove deep into my spirituality, worked with sacred plant medicine, and traveled to Costa Rica and Peru, where I took part in ayahuasca ceremonies. It was Mother Ayahuasca, as we call her in the shaman community, who showed me our soul contract together, which was to bring our children into the world, and also showed me his deep pain and regret for hurting me.
It was through all of the healing modalities I embarked on that I found compassion for the woman he was now with and a forgiveness I didn’t know was possible that set me free.
Flash forward ten years. My ex and I have a healthy co-parenting relationship. We’re not besties, but we have mutual respect for each other and bring our families together to celebrate the kids’ big milestones, whether it be their birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, or graduation.
I forgave and made peace with the woman he left me for. She and I stay in touch, although they are no longer together. She loved my kids for four years, and for that I’ll always be grateful to her. I cheer her on from a distance and pray for her happiness and that she finds love again.
I’m raising my kids solo, having moved them from LA where their dad still lives to the east coast to be closer to our families. It’s hard co-parenting long distance, but when it feels really hard, I remind myself that I’m surrounded by so much love and have a ton of support. There’s not one shred of me that feels not enough or unlovable or that something was done to me.
It was an invitation to grow. It was a bigger invitation to learn how to forgive.
We all make mistakes and do things we wish we could go back and undo.
We’re a messy, sometimes complicated family, just like every other family. Nobody has the perfect life, the perfect family, or the perfect relationship. I have to remind myself every day I scroll through my social media feed and see happy families smiling on the outside, that there is a story behind the smiles we aren’t always privy to.
My smile is real most days. Other days, there are tears of overwhelm or sadness or just mourning a life I thought I should have. There are also days when I am still angry with him for what he did to my heart and to me. But I am incredibly proud of the life I’ve created for myself and my children. They will never know the progress I’ve made in the last decade, nor will people who didn’t know me back then, but me… I’ll always know.
We can survive anything if we make the conscious decision to not let that thing take us down. We can not just survive but thrive if we allow forgiveness for ourselves and others who have hurt us to always be our endgame.