Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Ever-Changing Depth of Heartbreak

My husband and I were driving home last weekend from taking our boys to visit my mom. I honestly cannot remember what specific topic we were discussing at first, but I know it led to me then saying "You know, I'm always floored by how much different heartbreak becomes as you age. I feel like I was so naive as a teenager." To which he replied, "There are so many things I am still incredibly naive about."

It got me thinking. I recalled being a young girl--a little quirky, happy, friendly, kind of chubby. Awkward would be a good word to describe me. As most tween girls do, I had a crush (a few over the years) and I remember that beautiful, awful, heartsick feeling of knowing that a crush was all it would ever be.
Those feelings were real. I felt them often and I felt them deeply. I remember confiding in my best friend about this boy I liked well through high school. "He'd never go for me. I'm sure he'd pick any other girl in our class over me.", I'd say. I remember pouring out tears over my journal pages as I wrote about feelings that would probably stay between me, my best friend, and that little book. Trust me, I remember.

But looking back, I smile on those times a bit. I giggle at myself. I say to myself "If I had the confidence, I could have just told him I liked him and saved myself the years of trouble." I wonder if then, my heartbreak would have been over and I could have focused on more important things than boys.
The fact is, though, as an adult I've realized that heartbreak doesn't ever go away. It just changes.

I got married at 20 years old and I am now 27. Within weeks of being married, my husband left for boot camp. A little over a year after being married, we had our first son. Shortly after that, we faced our first deployment, then a second, a second baby, a third deployment.
I felt the heartbreak of being separated from my partner. I felt the pressure of being a "geographically single" mother. Heavy tears ran down my cheeks as I watched my toddler kiss pictures of my husband and ask for "more daddy".
Between our two sons, we lost a baby. I felt the emptiness of my heart overshadow the emptiness of my womb. I grieved the loss of a child that I knew nothing about. I packed away hopes and dreams and assumptions about that child's future.
I watched my husband come in and out of our lives, often feeling like a stranger for weeks after returning. By the time we got reacquainted, he'd be gone again. I'd ask myself "Is this normal? Will this ever end?" I felt completely lost.

During this seven years of official adulthood, I've seen people marry and divorce. I've watched as my friends experience years of infertility, countless miscarriages, and sending their babies off to Heaven after only hours on this Earth. I've seen friends fall upon hard financial circumstances and struggle to feed themselves and their children. I've seen my loved ones pass away. I've watched as my close family and friends struggle with health issues that leave them frail and discouraged. I've watched my friends put in countless hours searching for jobs, only to be told there are no openings. I've seen them struggle through school, only to be rewarded with thousands of dollars in debt. I've seen hopelessness. I've seen defeat.
I've seen heartbreak.

I once thought that heartbreak would end when I found someone to love me for life, when I had children, when I got degrees and jobs and felt accomplished. I thought adulthood equated serenity. Unfortunately, that isn't true.

I think back on the issues I faced as a teenage girl and think "If only that was it."  It's not to say that those days weren't difficult, and I know that some young people face much more difficulty in their lives than I ever have and probably ever will. The children who are bullied, the children who don't feel at home in their own bodies, the children who live in poverty, the children who live through abuse...I am not belittling their heart ache. I am not going to even assume that I could understand it or identify with it. Heartache is something they have seen all too much of, and unfortunately, adulthood will not bring a complete eradication of heartbreak.

So what, then? If heartbreak doesn't change, then what?
We change.
We realize that life is not easy, relationships take work, things go wrong and opportunities don't always knock down our doors. But we also realize that it's been years since we felt that first pang of heartache and we are still here. We are still going strong. We can still find beauty in life. We still smile. We still laugh. We're still happy people that only sometimes feel unhappy.

When I was 13 and experiencing unrequited love, it was the worst thing I could have felt at that time. And I got through it. I found my husband, we fell in love. We got married, had children, built a life together. We fell on hard times and we came out stronger. We spent months separated from each other and we remained faithful and committed. I experienced the loss of a baby and it was incredibly painful, but I ended up being blessed with my rainbow son and he brings me laughter every day. I watched my mother lose the man she loved, unexpectedly but she went on to find love again and become a wife again after being separated from my father for over 20 years. I watched my aunt be diagnosed with cancer, fight through chemo, and come out on the other side cancer free and empowered. I watched my brother battle a decade-long drug addiction, overcome it on his own and go on to meet his wife and be blessed with her two boys.
Look, heartbreak doesn't go away. It's always here with us. The depth of it changes over the years. We learn that things happen in adulthood that we didn't dream of happening when we were young and thought that we'd "have it all together" by the ages we are now.
But we also come to know that humans are resilient. We are much, much stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for. We grow and we choose to love each other. We choose to support each other because we know we need support. We face challenges with confidence because we are experienced victors. We can look fear, pain, and loss right in the eyes and say "You may knock me down, but you will not keep me down."
We begin to realize that these are the best of times; these are the worst of times and we make peace with that. Heartbreak is devastating. But there is nothing more powerful than overcoming it and realizing that there is nothing, nothing that you cannot make it through.

So no matter where you are in your life, I want you to understand two things:
1) Heartbreak is everlasting, ever-changing.
2) So are you.

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