I read a book once that pointed out that life tends to divide itself into befores and afters.
It’s true, when you think about it. Some are obvious milestones: Before high school. After high school. Before college. After college. Before and after your first job. Births. Deaths. We, all of us, all our lives, are just a mess of befores and afters and how they changed us from one version of ourselves to the next. We have ceremonies to celebrate or mourn the changes. Matriculation. Funerals. Christenings.
Sometimes, even though one day you’re a person of before and the next day a person of after, it feels like little has changed. Some befores and afters fade into one another like the colors of the sunset meld from one to the next, and suddenly the sky has gone from blue to orange to purple without you noticing. The easy changes are like that. You don’t realize things are changing until they have, and then, before you know it, you’ve made your way from a before to an after.
Other changes fall like a sledgehammer. No matter the slope into it, no matter the warning or preparation, the change will always be abrupt.
Hopefully followed by rebirth.
For me, 2017 was a sledgehammer year.
2017 felt like falling off the edge of the world. Tumbling into the unknown with no way of catching myself and hoping against hope that I would manage to find some yet unknown footing. And it wasn’t just the divorce, though that was a large part of it. It was losing all faith in the person who I used to consider my best friend. Honestly, before I found out about his affair, if I had been asked whether I had more faith in him, or in the sun’s rising in the east and setting in the west, I would have, without a moment’s hesitation, said him. But after? I felt worthless, thrown away by the person who had promised to love me no matter what.
When my marriage fell away, I realized that I had defined myself by my relationship and that I didn’t entirely remember who I was outside of it. And I was so numb that, for quite a while, I couldn’t figure out what to do to fix that.
2017 was a lost and found year.
When my life fell to pieces, I really thought that I was destined to live a half-life. I couldn’t imagine my world without my ex. I couldn’t imagine being happy again. I know that it sounds crazy, but for a long while there, it seemed like joy was a thing of my past.
I lost who I had been. I lost who he and I had been together. I lost the person I had depended upon the most.
But then, hidden in the wreckage of my life, cowering and lost, I found myself again.
I was surprised to learn that you can always find your way back to you.
2017 was my year of Women Reading Aloud. (Yes, Julie, I’m talking about you.)
The series of events that brought me to the South of France this August, sitting in a room full of lovely, beautiful, talented writers, is complex and uncanny. It was almost an accident. It was almost intentional. I almost didn’t go, feeling almost too heartbroken to function. But, somehow, the universe brought me to a little retreat, near a little town, that I almost couldn’t find on a map. Weirdly, I started to find pieces of myself in a place that I had never been with people who I had never met.
After that, I started to find pieces of myself all over. My friends and family helped remind me of who I had always been. My creatures reminded me of what I had always done. My half-life grew, and it was as though those people and places and creatures dearest to me had been holding pieces of me for safe-keeping: pieces I had forgotten about. Pieces that they handed back once I was ready to begin putting myself back together.
The thing about befores and afters is that they never really leave you. Rather, they change you. If you let them, they can change you for the better, even as you mourn what you lost.
I was recently sent a message by an old college friend who reached out to me, asking what she could do to help someone who had recently discovered their spouse was having an affair. My heart broke for this person, who I had never met, because I know what it is to renegotiate yourself through that sort of brokenness. I gave her some advice. A list of books that had I found helpful.
And I started thinking, not for the first time, about all the people who find themselves living in an after they never expected.
If that’s where you are right now, negotiating an heart-wrenching after, you’re not alone. You’re growing. And you’re changing. And you’re probably breaking into a thousand pieces. But you’re not alone.
You’ll change. You’ll grow. You find yourself all over again. And you put the pieces back, maybe a little differently.
All of this to say, you’ve got this. I believe in you. Go live your after