When There Is Nothing Left To Burn

There I was. Sitting on the orange upholstered chair in our kitchen, head in my hands, thoughts racing. My dog, Major, dutifully in my lap. My wife standing before me, searching for words of comfort as I wept inconsolably drowning in self-pity.

There’s really nothing quite like the quiet isolation of realizing that your marriage is beyond repair. That despite having stood in front of your closest family and friends and proclaimed forever, you are now backing out just a few years later. I felt ashamed. I felt alone. And I felt like everything I had worked for, the life that I had built, was being taken away from me.

Last year was rough. My life went through a lot of changes. My parents split up after 35 years of marriage. My grandmother passed. My own marriage, to the first girl I’d ever dated, fell apart. I walked away from the house, dog, and life we’d built together. I moved to a new city. I started a new job. And after all that, honestly, I feel pretty damn invincible.

Thankfully at the time I had enough common sense to lean on a triple cocktail of @BreneBrown’s writing, general advice from @JamesVictore & @LVictore, and weekly consults with a really good therapist. Frequent booze-filled processing with dear friends didn’t hurt either. Eventually all of the wisdom, guidance, and @TeganandSara lyrics coalesced in my mind and allowed me to realize – I am going to be alright.

I liked that house; I loved that dog. But, really, those were just things. Things that, hard as it may be, I could leave behind. And, simple as it seems, that was my moment of clarity. Once I was able to flip the narrative, I could see those as not things I would be losing, but things that were holding me back. And their absence became my freedom.

In the tradeoff, I gained some invaluable intangibles. With no assets holding me back I found the freedom to move anywhere, to pursue any job I wanted, to truly discover who I am. After experiencing the biggest failure of my life, failure became a lot less frightening. Once you’ve fully experienced that of which you were most afraid, it forces you to re-evaluate the idea of fear in the first place. Why allow yourself to be controlled by fear when in the end, it doesn’t protect you? I realized that vulnerability and the courage to share your truth are of the utmost importance to me. Voice your struggle; put yourself out there; own your truth. When you expose to the light of day the darkness you otherwise would harbor, life becomes much less heavy.

There is so much shame wrapped up in divorce. And I think that’s because nobody talks about it. The things you can’t speak of control your inner monologue, dominate your thoughts. But I am not ashamed. I fear no judgement. This is my truth.

I am not ashamed of letting go. At some point I realized that to hold on and suffer through, to pretend that everything was fine, that would be an act of cowardice, not bravery. It wasn’t easy. I am a fighter; I don’t give up easy. And neither my ex nor I took the decision lightly. But in the end we were able to look at one another and agree that we both deserved more. And so I walked away.

I recently turned 30. And honestly, it’s pretty great. I know myself so much better for all the struggle I’ve been through. I’ve learned to appreciate the moment, to feel my emotions, to focus on what brings joy to my life, and to see the positive in most situations. I listen to myself, I trust my instincts, and I put my truth out there without fearing the consequences. (I’ve learned the consequence of not putting yourself out there is much greater.) I live in a fairly minimal footprint, but I don’t hesitate to treat myself from time to time. I know that I am worth it.

Too many of us don’t try new things, don’t give credit to our own opinions, don’t allow ourselves to be our curious, flawed selves because we’re paralyzed by the prospect of failure. But I truly believe that there are no regrets, only lessons to be learned. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because I’ve never been so happy or free as I am now.

The biggest question mark for me in moving on, one of my greatest concerns was: how open would I be to finding love again? Had I become jaded? Could I trust again? Or would I find myself holding back out of self-preservation?

I recently fell pretty hard for one girl in particular. And that, in and of itself, felt pretty damn great. It was a lot of things, but more than anything it was a moment of self-reassurance; I can do this. I was more vulnerable than I had ever been before; I let her see me. It didn’t work out. But I knew I was good when the thought crossed my mind, “She could completely crush me, and I’m fine with that.” Because if, and when, I get knocked down again, I know I’ll find my feet.




Designer // Thinker // Explorer

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Ashley Riehlin

Ashley Riehlin

Designer // Thinker // Explorer

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