Risking Life Is the Only Way to Live
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.
Life is all about risk. How did I make it to my 40’s without realizing this? I’ve known it in my day job for decades, and yet, I never translated it into my personal life.
In my day job, I’ve accumulated a number of accolades over the years for being the renegade, the one person willing to take the uncomfortable risks. Years before terms like acquisition reform and outside the box became buzzwords, I was living it. If it was risky and everyone else was afraid to try it, even better! I loved being first. I wanted to blaze every trail I could, and if others followed, it was even more gratifying.
“Be careful,” I’ve heard so often since I was a child. Be careful how I walked, and where I walked to, and who I walked with and whether I walked at all. Do the safe thing, the secure thing. Be afraid. Be so full of fear that I might never really live.
Why then, if fear breeds safety and life thrives on risk, was it that I could be so bold in one part of my life and so timid in my home life? How could I have been so afraid to defy my ex’s quiet but commanding disapproval to do something as simple as having my most conservative friends over for an evening of dinner and spiritual discussion? To paint the walls something other than white? To drive an hour-and-a-half to visit my soulmate, Maggie Shayne, after she flew down from New York to Pensacola? To allow a platonic friend from 1600 miles away to crash on my floor for one night while he was searching for his kidnapped daughter in a nearby town? To spend $250 to have a scar removed when it’s been a painful reminder of a dog attack since I was five years old? To visit Vicki in the evenings instead of staying home and watching a rerun? To take my girls to a chick-flick without him? To…be me?
My own parents spend their lives in a self-imposed prison, too. Tragedy, they’re certain, is just around the next corner, waiting for them to step outside and meet it face to face. They think that if they stay quietly inside their ever-shrinking circle, then death and disaster and ill-will cannot find them. They convince themselves that they’re happy in their isolation. And tragedy lurks no matter where or if they sleep.
I had convinced myself, too. Three years before my divorce, I was ecstatically happy, I told myself, as long as I didn’t share with my ex my feelings on some of the things that are most important in my life and in who I am. As long as I wasn’t me, then I could be happy. Yes, that was the secret to my happy marriage.
“I hope someday you’ll have the courage to finally leave him,” Jamie told me six months before I filed for divorce. She was tired of the excuses I made for him and how he was better this month than last and the peace was holding.
I didn’t understand what Jamie meant about courage. My feelings were a little hurt that she’d called me a coward. But she explained that she too had been in a verbally abusive marriage and had convinced herself that she could be happy as long as she bit her tongue and kept trying harder and harder to please her mate, at the expense of her own self-worth. Finally, she saw her own misery for what it was—her own chains—and had the courage to leave. Then she gestured at her adorably sweet and supportive new husband and, with tears in her eyes, told me how she never would have met him or fallen in love with him or had this chance at happiness if she’d stuck it out with her abusive ex.
In looking back now, I see the risk I took in leaving and choosing to start over. I’m not sure I did then, even with how hard it was. I never thought of it as courage, but rather, sheer survival. I just knew it couldn’t stay the way it was or I was going to implode. My world had already cracked all around me, and I was near the point of shattering…of no longer wanting to live if I had to live the life of this other person I wasn’t and could never be. If I couldn’t be “me,” then I was already emotionally dead.
But leaving my marriage was probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I could have lost everything. Everything. My children, my home, my friendships, my retirement, my reputation, my stability, more.
Since I’m the one with the wild clothes and the crazy ideas and my ex is the one with the conservative and steadfast image, people who don’t know me well tend to make assumptions. I’m not eloquent in groups and I don’t glad-hand well, so I’m the one who gets reprimanded by my daughter’s music teacher for buying a low-quality flute for her when I’d filed for divorce and had no child support yet to help her musical dreams come true, and my ex—who forgot her last concert—gets the kudos for being so supportive of her talents when all he did was shake the music teacher’s hand and restrain himself from mentioning yet again how much he hates band geeks.
Not knowing what happened between my ex and me and with my refusal to tell-all, some people who have been friends—at least superficially—now seem strained around me. A colleague I’ve known for 15 years refuses to speak to me ever since he read the legal notice in the paper and realized that I’m the one who divorced such a “nice guy.” A long-time Christian colleague of mine had a hard time accepting my divorce but once I gave him a few hints about my home life, he made a feeble attempt to comfort me. However, when he found out I’d had a post-divorce date with a guy I really, really liked, that was his threshold of acceptance. It was okay, in his reluctant opinion, for me to divorce as long as I was alone for the rest of my life. I’m sorry to have lost the friendship of these two colleagues and others like them, but honestly, I’m not losing sleep over it. If that was the depth of the friendships, then it’s probably best that I don’t spend my energy on them, and I freely let them go.
But in spite of the fact that I couldn’t see any chance of a bright future when I made up my mind to leave, Jamie’s predictions for me are coming true. I now go where I want. I decorate my house how I want. I dress how I want. I eat what I want. I do the things I want and I talk about them with people who share the same interests. I’m being myself, and I think my kids rather enjoy seeing Mama take her power.
I’m so much happier. I’m so much more me, more who I want to be, and I don’t feel squelched.
But other opportunities arise, too. Ones I never knew were there, and they wouldn’t have been if I were not actively taking a risk to open my heart to new people and my life to new experiences.
I’ve made new friends I adore, ones who adore me back. Ones I don’t have to be defensive around or explain myself to or beg their forgiveness if they don’t understand me. My entire social circle has opened up, and I’ve opened my home to new ideas and new friendships, as well as old friendships. When Vicki saw my home two months after my divorce, she stood in my kitchen and cried. The house, which Shannon’s friends call the “Shrine in the Middle of Suburbia,” was finally becoming a reflection of me.
I’ve met a man who has so much in common with me that it doesn’t seem possible, and it’s downright scary. My ex comes into the house to pick up the kids and scowls at the walls, but this new man picks me up for a date and scans the same walls eagerly, wanting to know the meaning behind everything, touching this item and that, eyes sparkling and intent. It does me a world of good to see his appreciation and interest. He thinks I’m cool, and I can’t beat that!
I’ve been introduced to so many new ideas and people in the past few months, things that were closed to me before. Now the world’s wide open.
And it’s all because I took a risk, a huge risk that is paying off in new confidence and new joy. I’m still nervous about taking risks in new relationships, but it makes it easier when I think of how my last risk paid off. It may seem bold to pursue some of these new friendships, and I probably intimidate the hell out of this new guy, but the kind of life I want to live doesn’t thrive on fear and safety.
So today when I go out into the world, I’ll ignore that inner voice that whispers, “Be careful.” Instead, I’m going to take a risk.