chipping away what is not me.

“I don’t think you’re different at all,” she remarked over her gin and tonic. “I think this is who you always were. There was just a lot of other stuff in the way.”

I was once told a story that may or may not be true, but that has stayed with me for the many years since I heard it. Someone is rumored to have asked Michelangelo regarding his immortal David how he managed to create such a masterpiece from a crude slab of marble. “It was easy,” Michelangelo replied. “All I did was chip away the parts that weren’t David.”

“You’re not the girl I married,” he said disgustedly, casting the words out of his mouth as though they made him sick. “I don’t know who you are anymore.”

This process — writing, thinking, reading, more writing — is healing me. I got divorced two years ago, but I never properly recovered. I thought that if enough time had passed, I would think about it less and less, until that time in my life eventually disappeared, until everyone, including myself, forgot that it ever happened. Until the amount of space it took up on the timeline of my life grew smaller and smaller by comparison. And it’s true that I do think about it less and less. But it did happen. No amount of time or space can erase it from my history. And the more I write, the more I heal, the more I uncover about that time in my life and how it relates to where I am now. Every day I feel a little more self-aware, a little more cognizant of how the events of my life have been woven together into the place where I am now, and how those same threads continue into the horizon, forever embedded in the tapestry of my life. I cannot remove them. Even if I could, the fabric would unravel. They are part of me, they are part of my story — and for that reason, I want to look at them a little longer, I want to handle them and memorize them and understand how they fit.

“You can’t do this,” he told me, his voice heavy with emotion. We hadn’t spoken in years, but he now thought it his responsibility to tell me what to do. “This is not Lauren. This is not the Lauren I watched grow up.”

It’s a lengthy process, the chipping away of what is not your true self. It starts with realizing that where you are and who you are with is counter to your true nature. It starts with standing up for yourself despite years of shame, control, abuse. It starts with taking that chisel in your shaky hands and taking a hard look at yourself, asking, “what must I do away with?” It hurts, when chisel hits flesh and then bone. People will protest; they will tell you that it’s wrong to alter yourself, that it’s too painful, that you will regret it, or that you are destroying yourself. It’s a struggle to continue, to keep chipping away despite loved ones weeping as though you were dying, despite whispers from others thinking they know your life better than you do. But you will continue, because the weight of what is not you is heavy, and it hurts to carry. It hurts more than the chipping away ever could.

“I’m proud of you,” she said to the reflection in the bathroom mirror. The eyes looking back were red-rimmed and dark, but clear. The cheeks were wet but the jaw was resolute. The lips curved ever so slightly. “You did a hard thing. It was the right thing. You went at it alone, and you did it. And I’m proud of you.”

When you begin a life with someone, you may not consider that the other person is capable of hurting you. You may feel safe, even cherished. But perhaps there are years of angry insecurities, lying in wait, to turn kindness into criticism and love into contempt. You don’t see them at first, and then you do, and eventually the cruelty can no longer be ignored. Getting married at twenty-one and divorced at twenty-seven brings up a lot of thoughts and feelings about wasted time and “the best years of my life.” Regret is the heaviest of those feelings, and questions that begin with the word “why” can inevitably lead to some dark evenings.

“[P]ain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. […] Yesterday, the marriage may have ended. Tomorrow the cat may die. The phone call from the lover, for all my waiting, may not ever come, but just at the moment, just now, that’s all right. I am breathing in and out. Realizing this, I began to notice that each moment was not without its beauty.” -Julia Cameron, p.54, The Artist’s Way

One day, and that day grows closer all the time, I will be thankful for the pain, and for the opportunity to grow from it. I will say “thank you,” sincerely and wholly, and I will mean it.

After all, it was the pain that first nudged the chisel in my direction.


Originally published at breakfastandfeelings.com on October 14, 2015.