The Lessons in Our Choices

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“Your strength amazes me.”

“Wow, you’ve been through a lot.”

“I don’t think I could handle all of that.”

I am so tired of hearing these things. They are all well-meaning efforts at empathy, but every one of them grates on me like nails on a chalkboard. It’s not that I don’t understand what the person uttering these words is trying to say. It’s that they don’t understand my pain, yet they feel compelled to say something because no reaction would be taken as heartless and uncaring.

To say I’ve been through a lot in the past half decade is an understatement. I watched my parents’ lifelong marriage crumble into unsalvageable bits. My dad went to jail. My mom took everything and moved to the other side of the country. My siblings and I were left to clean up a mess that was not our doing. Relationships were fractured. Some were left beyond repair.

As the dust of that life-changing time settled, the father of my child was accused of child abuse. The description of what happened was so violent and so shocking that I didn’t understand what was happening at first. After that, we dove into a months-long court battle until he finally accepted a guilty plea. The short window that my daughter had gotten to build the relationship with her father I had been hoping for since the moment she was born had closed. Again, relationships were fractured. Some were left beyond repair.

In the midst of that drama, I was fired from the job I loved. It was a stupid termination; a technicality that allowed the company to avoid paying a severance for my years of service. I was bitter and yet, relieved. A lot of changes at the company allowed me to see exactly where I wanted to take my career, and that my opportunities if I remained were limited.

Life-changing events are stressful. That’s why it’s suggested to limit the major ones after one is had — a marriage, a baby, a divorce, a death, a job change. Because all of that stress will eventually kill you.

To admire someone’s ability to weather the storm is kind, but it’s kind of empty. While we admire someone’s respective strength, we are also saying that we aren’t worthy of the lesson that will come from the challenge. We feel relieved that we don’t have to live in the darkness we see someone else in.

But the thing is, incredible things manifest in the darkness.

The pain of my parents’ divorce taught me how to set healthy boundaries. I am no longer willing to accept toxic relationships out of obligation. I learned to stop letting guilt be my driver and instead chose intention. I was able to find my own voice and say the things that have been on my heart without fear of retribution.

The searing agony of watching what the abuse has done to my daughter — the fallout is still not fully contained — has taught me how to recognize abuse in its many devious forms. I have learned to be more cautious with my relationships and, more importantly, walk away from those that are not serving me. I have become an incredible bullshit detector and know when someone has an ulterior motive with their actions.

The shame of losing my job so unceremoniously forced me to look at what I really wanted out of life — not just what I thought I should want out of life. It forced me to reassess my priorities and design the life I’ve always dreamed of. I started a business with zero dollars and shitty credit. While the cash flow isn’t quite to the level I desire it, I’m happier than I have been in a very long time.

I don’t want to think that people who have more challenges in life are stronger than those who don’t. I’m sure it doesn’t work that way. Rather, I feel like we call the challenges to us, the ones that we feel like we can take on. Maybe it’s bravery, maybe it’s arrogance, but for whatever reason, we choose the rocky path we set out on. The lessons we learn are ours and ours alone. It’s not something that we survive, it’s something that helps us to grow.