Stepping Toward Happiness

There comes a point in everyone’s life when they need to choose life. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her new book The Signature of All Things, “she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact.” What’s not so simple is when that moment comes and you have to make a choice.

For me that moment came on the eve of my 48th year. I was at a fork in the road in my marriage. In one direction was the safe, familiar, and vaguely dissatisfying path that I’ve seen so many couples endure “for the sake of the children.” In the other direction was the complete unknown. I stared at that fork in the road for at least a year. I tried to talk to my husband about it. I went back to therapy. But the longer I examined my options, the more that familiar path felt like a trap, a suffocating road that led certainly to a spiritual death, if not a physical one.

Something happens when a woman reaches midlife. The way I think of it is the switch in our bodies that makes us willing and able to endure any hardship in service to our family just kind of turns off. I remember reading the first chapter of The Wisdom Of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, MD, and “joking” to my husband, “Honey, I think we might be in trouble.”

I went back and looked at the pictures of myself throughout the marriage and saw a slow decline—not of age, although I saw that too, but a seeping out of my vital life force. I had given so much of myself to everyone else that there was nothing left inside of me. No “there” there. I read all my old journals and saw the seeds of my unhappiness take root a long way back. But I had determined to endure.

I began to obsess over the idea of stepping toward happiness—even if that meant first walking through the darkness of the unknown.

Attempts at communicating felt rejected. I felt rejected. I started to imagine what it might be like to take that other road—the road of adventure, change, and freedom. It was terrifying. But exciting, too. I told my husband I was going in search of the “original me,” and in the process of searching I felt myself start to come alive again. The original me was an artist, an adventuress, an explorer, and navigatrix (which is what makes me good at business, by the way). She demanded to be unleashed.

I came to the realization that we each need to do our own work and can’t do it for others. And while I worried most about my children, I also saw that the more I came back to life, the happier they seemed to be. The more I came back to life, the happier I seemed! And yet, the more I came back to life, the more distant I felt from my husband, and the harder it was to see a happy ending for us together.

I began to wonder if it was possible to still love someone and care for them but disentangle and disconnect from a marriage, to co-parent with love but not seek love from the relationship? Because the more I thought about staying in the relationship, the more I felt like I would drown, and I became certain that to stay was to choose a sort of death. I suddenly realized I am one of those who will fight the unrelenting battle to live. It was not possible for me to surrender to that slow death and still be true to myself. Even if that meant publicly facing the shame of a failed marriage. Even if that meant my children were going to be from a “broken home.” Even if it meant I would have to face starting down that other road scared and alone.

And so I stepped toward happiness, which led, of course, immediately into a world of dark mystery and fear. From mundane fears like how will the lawn get mowed and who will figure out how to fix the remote to big, bad fears like what if I make some horrible mistake and die a lonely death. And what if I destroy my children’s happiness because of my own “selfish” choice?

We women bear so many burdens. Well, I’m sure everyone, man or woman, feels he or she does. But I also knew this was a moment for me to redefine for my daughters and myself what it means to be successful, powerful, and happy. What it means to feel loved, too.

So, I’m now heading toward my 52nd birthday and we are in the process of divorcing. I didn’t share the details with you, dear reader, since some things—even for a blogger—should remain private. But I will tell you, it hasn’t been easy for anyone. However, it has gotten easier. And with each step I’ve taken toward happiness (even those that led me through the darkness) I have become happier, stronger, healthier, and more alive.

It’s amazing, actually. I’ve grown more in the past four years than I ever thought possible. And a lot of that journey, truth be told, has been about learning to love myself—to not desperately seek some sort of love outside of myself. I’m sure there is time for that in the future, but for now, I’m enjoying my freedom!

I just wanted you all to know. But the truth is, dear reader, you have been with me the whole way. Some of those steps toward happiness were physical—learning to run (slowly). Some of the steps were emotional—having the courage to look at the shadow parts of myself and see how I contributed to the unhappiness. Some of the steps were verbal—finding the courage to say things I’ve never said before. Some of the steps were spiritual—digging deep inside myself to find my true voice, my true purpose. Some of my steps were even work related. I learned how to trust my own gut, instincts, and expertise even as people criticized and doubted me. Some of those steps were about doing new things—what I love about the photo with this blog is that I’m finally in Australia (a lifelong dream) getting out of a SEA PLANE (scary but fun) for a business lunch. It’s like all the parts of my life finally came together. As I said, it wasn’t easy. But the important thing is that I took those steps. And the adventure has begun.

Bruce Springsteen asks in a lot of his concerts, “Is anyone ALIVE out there?” Now my answer is a resounding “YEAH!!!!!”

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49 Responses to Stepping Toward Happiness

  1. sarah November 11, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing and good luck on your new adventures.
    You are so brave.

  2. Scott Edward Anderson November 11, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Brava Maria! I’m so happy for you. Having made my own leap to happiness and my true self over the past few years — with many of the same forks, questions, and circumstances — I know the struggle you have gone through. I’ve also seen, just through your posts and Facebook updates, a woman who is more full of life and, dare I say, happier than ever. As it should be. Would love to get together for lunch or coffee and share our stories.

  3. Renee November 11, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for sharing all of this, Maria. Without knowing more than what you wrote, I’d like to share one thought: troubling to read that you wrote “failed marriage.” I like to believe marriages work for as long as they can – sometimes that’s a lifetime. Sometimes it’s not. Maybe yours worked as long as it could – for all the right reasons – and then it was time for life to work differently for both of you. Wish you both nothing but the best in the years ahead.

  4. maria (farm country kitchen) November 11, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Thanks Renee. You are right. How could something have failed that produced two such wonderful children and many happy memories? Thanks for pointing that out. No regrets!

  5. Liz November 11, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    This touched me in so many ways. My wish for you is to love the life you have been brave enough to have chosen. I know you will soar. You are a wise woman.

  6. nan November 11, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Bravo, Maria! It’s a tough decision, but it is usually better for everyone once the tension is out of the house. Healing for all takes time. Let yourself grieve and heal.

    My younger daughter graduated high school and moved away last year. Later in the year, my relationship ended. 2013 has been the most painful year of my life, but near the end of it, I realized I needed that time alone to rediscover who I am without being a parent or a partner. A year has passed, and despite the pain, I am blossoming into someone I really like again. I feel free. I wrote a blog post about it last week, too, titled ‘the beginning of the beginning’: http://nanfischer.com/2013/11/04/the-beginning-of-the-beginning/

  7. Debra November 11, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Maria! Thank you for sharing. Today’s post has hit home with me. I am fast approaching my 53rd birthday (Friday) and I am exactly where you were in the beginning of this post. I have almost all those same feelings. I am stuck right at the fork with so much confusion that I don’t know which path to take at this moment. It is hard and it is scary! Your statement:
    “I had given so much of myself to everyone else that there was nothing left inside of me. No “there” there.”
    That is almost word for word the main thought that has been in my mind. I just want to say thank you for sharing this, it helps to remember that others have gone through this as well, and I am not bad or crazy. I hope that I can be brave enough to be true to myself no matter which path I decide on. Thank you!

  8. Susan November 11, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Thank you for sharing this, Maria. How fortunate are your daughters!

  9. Marci Beikmann November 11, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Damn, that nearly brought me to tears. I’ve spent so many years living exactly what you described. Still am, and hating it. You give me courage and hope, just knowing that other women got through this too. Thank you.

  10. Kathryn November 11, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Such a beautiful, heartfelt essay–thank you! So much of what you wrote here could have come from my life, the lives of so many women in their 50’s that I know. Who am I once my children are fledged or when the marriage no longer works or spouses are parted unexpectedly by death…”who do I want to be when I grow up” is as valid a question in midlife as in youth. Finding the path that will take us toward a happier, richer life is definitely a challenge, sometimes scary or lonely, but the rewards within are awesome!

  11. Sue November 11, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    If you’re blessed (as you are, dear Maria) to seek your true self and find it, then what your partner chooses is an education. Either, the partner is thrilled for you and your relationship is renewed; or the partner can’t accept a vivid, multicolored, authentic you, and you both move on. It’s always difficult, but either way, you win.

    I’ve been through the horrible divorce. That’s the past for me now. At 59, with a partner who is, and who wants, a partner who is fully realized, I am blessed with love, happiness and a full life with all of its colors.

  12. Connie Boyle November 11, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    So beautifully documented, Maria. You put into words the emotions that so many of us have experienced. We become so much stronger as a result of the painful process, and in retrospect it was truly worth it!

  13. Hillary November 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    This:

    “Something happens when a woman reaches mid-life. The way I think of it is the switch in our bodies that makes us willing and able to endure any hardship in service to our family just kind of turns off.”

    So true! I’m 46 now and for the past couple of years I have just been so much more self-focused. I’m fortunate that husband and I have actually become closer as this process has taken place. He has stepped up, encouraged me and supported me. But, yes, you have to make that decision to LIVE instead of existing when you hit this phase of life.

    I’m glad you’ve chosen to be alive. I’m sure the future holds more great things for you. And I’m thankful I get to be along for the ride at least in spirit.

  14. Marianne November 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t know, but I always thought that I was the only one that had these feelings. I felt guilty, and sometimes still do, about doing “the selfish” thing and moving on to find myself and a purpose to my life nearly 15 years ago while going through menopause.
    As someone else already said above, the sentence that you wrote, “I had given so much of myself to everyone else that there was nothing left inside of me. No “there” there.” is
    exactly what I felt like. I felt non-exsistent, useless, afraid and terribly desolate.
    Thank you again for sharing your story.
    The very best for your future …. a bright, interesting and exciting future.

  15. Fran November 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Congratulations – I agree with Renee – the marriage is not failed. I believe the first marriage/relationship is for children/family and for growing up and maturing. If it works and people stay together – that’s great for everyone. If not – and you feel like you are not growing and stagnant and not alive, it’s surely time to part. I felt that menopause brought such a freedom to me. You give up some things but you gain so much more. Ability to speak up and say no. It’s a time to re-evaluate your life. I wish you happiness on your journey.

  16. Kathleen November 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    here is to happiness, feeling ALIVE and having the courage to make a change… even if it is an extremely difficult one. You inspire me daily.

  17. Alice Green November 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Maria, Thank you for being honest, brave and willing to share your story with all of us. Since I’m fairly new to your blog, I’ve had the feeling that your expressions of how you have been enjoying life seemed to be so fresh and new. I’ve wondered how you have keep that love of adventure and that child-like wonder of the world so alive. But now I see how – because you are seeing life from the new you and it is a new adventure with new eyes to see and be seen, a new growth that gives you and all around you a new joy in life. More power to you and to all who are willing to not just survive but to grow and thrive! You are a great role model for your own children and for all of us!

  18. Cynthia November 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    It’s so very life affirming to read your post, Maria. I’m in the middle of one of those transitions and chose Life. Words cannot describe the experience, only point to it.

  19. Stacy November 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I, like you, turned 48 and realized my life was on the wrong path. I have raised a daughter by myself but felt like I needed to create a family life for her so I got married at 46. After a year of grooming me and my daughter, we discovered that he is a narcissistic psychopath and drained me of my retirement, savings, self confidence and sanity. I have always been a happy single but felt like I needed to get married like everyone else. I gave all that I have to give and more, needless to say I left the marriage emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically drained. Funny the minute my 18 yr old daughter and I left, it was life back to “normal” happy, peaceful and full of life. My daughter told me we were a family before and didn’t need a husband to be one! She chose not to go away to college and to live at home since she was happy again. I had stopped doing what made me happy to make “him” happy. I am so thankful it was only 2.5 years and not longer. I am back to me and the biggest lesson I learned is I do what I want to do not what I am supposed to do. It is freeing! I am looking forward to 49 and beyond!!!! There is definitely something about turning 45 or older. Signed….broke but and peaceful!

  20. lisa c. November 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    i took a very similar path many moons ago and have no regrets!
    my aunt told me once ” lisa, you deserve happiness” ~ and i found she was correct! took me awhile to realize to love myself wasnt selfish, it was very positive! another thing i learned was forgiveness…i learned its something your parents dont teach you, its a wonderful quality you teach yourself to move on ~ hugsss

  21. Vanessa November 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    “Love the life you live”…you inspire me, and I wish you the very best in this next chapter! Look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

  22. Petra November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I love it when we realize that we can truly live the life we want!
    Maria, this was so inspirational and lovely. You are taking a new direction to who you want to be right now! I applaud you. And yes I know it’s never easy but oh so much happier :O)
    Namaste

  23. Marie R. November 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Maria,
    I am deeply grateful for your life changing news…and so looking forward to your posts about your soulful thoughts and observations as you reach inside yourself for life and meaning. It speaks to my soul…. And I am sure it really stirs the embers inside so many of us who have had similar awakenings… It’s about living, about survival and not feeling our spirits die one feather at a time… It’s not about not loving our partners or our families… We so love them still… Yet this sense of urgency , this calling overrides any logic or fear we may have as we step into our own souls…
    Marriage from the outside observer may seem perfect and real and secure… Yet we feel like something is missing…. And it is our own selves…

    So many blessings for you ..

    If you haven’t read ANAM CARA , you would find it very moving….
    Much love,
    Marie R.

  24. Ellen November 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I wish you peace and love during this time of transformation and beyond.

  25. Susan November 11, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    Courageous, beautiful post. I have always admired you so very much. Very touched by this.

  26. maria (farm country kitchen) November 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Thank you so much EVERYONE! I was worried about putting myself “out there” but feel so much better and lighter knowing that my story has resonated with so many of you and I can feel your good wishes. Marie R. I ordered ANAM CARA!

  27. Maria November 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your courage and your struggle. I am 58 in a couple of weeks, and at the beginning of the journey you’ve just gone through. It’s painful and scary but reading your words reminded me that I’ve gotten myself this far in life which means I can get through this too. I read your blog and just know that you are truly an amazing woman who has an entire life ahead of her of fantastic adventures and peaceful moments. Your words are an inspiration to someone who is just beginning and who will most likely return to read them over and over again to make it to where your at. Thank you from my heart.

  28. Donna in Delaware November 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    I HEAR YOU, and I APPLAUD YOU for your bravery. I too found and find myself with this dilemma. There’s just one big difference, my husband is much older than I, so I feel the need to stay. I feel, and have felt all those thing that you do and have Maria. I thought many a day, “should I or shouldn’t I?” Many times my head told me to just “get out,” save myself, save my happiness. Where did it go all of these years? I looked in the mirror and saw unhappiness. I even thought of doing something outside of the marriage that was not good for me. I endured. I still feel trapped, but in the past year I have asked myself, “What about my happiness?” When will I stop caring for others and making them happy at the expense of my own. So I started slowly doing things that made me feel like a person again, like a woman again, like a human being again. I am feeling better about it, once I came to the realization that me being happy will eventually bode well for my husband too. I am getting through the day now, without the burden of feeling guilty every time I walk out of the door. I can actually breathe again and feel stronger for it. So again, I applaud you. I know that it is not easy, or was easy, but you took the step, you took the chance. You will be the better for it and I believe your kids will be also. Who need or want to be in a loveless marriage. It is a different kind of love now, that I feel, mostly filial and that is alright too!

  29. Liz November 12, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    Maria, I have so much respect and admiration for you and your courage in sharing your story. I feel like I’m at the beginning of this journey, relatively speaking, of marriage and parenthood . . . but have seen flashes of how one gets lost and absorbed in the process of setting yourself aside for others (kids, husband, parents, etc.) You’re proof that it’s possible to reinvent yourself, always grow, and come out on the other side with what’s vital and important still intact. Well done, my friend.

  30. Susan in Arizona November 12, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    As a mother of four, just turning 41, and standing at the very same fork in the road, LIFE is the only option!! Thank you for putting yourself “out there” and sharing with us. As women and mothers, we need to support eachother. I have not worked in almost 13 years and my fear is driving me…I must get a job, get out there in the world again and remember who I am!

  31. Anne November 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Completely and totally inspiring.

  32. Cyndi Reichard November 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Totally inspirational. Thank you.

  33. Tina November 13, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Happy Beginning!

  34. Carol November 13, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    I absolutely echo every post before mine !! I read your blog with mixed emotions; joy for you and your family, and bittersweet sadness. Too many women give too much of themselves at the expense of self, and while there is/can be job in giving, we all need to examine exactly what we ARE giving. I applaud you for your courage. It is not an easy decision.

  35. Janne November 13, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    This is so inspiring; wishing everyone here health and happiness; we all deserve it!

  36. Patty November 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Beautiful post. Especially loved, “I began to wonder if it was possible to still love someone and care for them but disentangle and disconnect from a marriage, to co-parent with love but not seek love from the relationship?” for that is the question we all ask when going through a divorce.

    Society often wants us to think that the marriage has failed, but indeed it has not. Lessons learned, and its time to change the view. Look at this as a time in which the relationship offered you things to learn, things put in place so you could “see”. He was and will continue to be your healing angel. Show complete gratitude toward this and be thankful. (not always easy!) . I personally really wrestled with this word “failure” because it meant I had failed, and I realized that in so many ways I didn’t feel like a failure. My choice of who I married was not bad or wrong. He was the perfect choice to show me exactly what I needed to learn and years later, he still shows me thing. For that I’m grateful.

  37. Donna in Delaware November 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    And MARCI BEIKMANN- it neatly brought me to tears also!

  38. Sara María Crespo November 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Maria, you are such a very brave woman. May I say you truly are a survivor. I wish you all the best. God bless you and your family.

    “Been there done that” No one said it was easy.

    Love

    Sara Maria

  39. Joan Gerding November 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    You reminded me of the moment 33 years ago when I was on my own for the first time and inexplicably happy after a very tough divorce. No job, no car, no money and a daughter to support but happier than I’d ever been. You are really fortunate to be wiser than me because it has taken me all these years and a retirement to realize that I am okay, I’m creative, I’m happy with myself. I’m glad you found that sooner than I did!

  40. Rita November 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Having lost myself in more than one relationship (and becoming filled with self loathing as a result) I too can relate to your process. I respect your courage in facing your truth and taking needed action. Enjoy your process of renewal and growth! And much peace to all of you as you adjust to your new family dynamic.

  41. Laura November 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    When I called my mother to tell her I was leaving my husband, I expected admonitions or I told you so, but instead she said “to your own self be true”. I have tried to live by this ever since. Because without your own happiness you can not make anyone else happy. All the best to you Maria.

  42. Mickie November 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Sounds so much like my life at 47! Thanks for posting this and may your life be blessed!

  43. Rebecca Lynn Buchanan November 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Maria, Thanks for sharing such an intimate experience, I don’t feel quite so alone. You and your readers have provided me a new perspective to deal with the shame I had felt over my “failed marriage”. I moved to Australia permanently 8 years ago, on my 50th birthday, to fulfill my husbands promise that he would be happy if he returned to Australia. I left him 4 years ago, after 21 years of marriage, and despite being 1/2 a world away from my support system in Seattle, have chosen to stay here. I haven’t a single regret. It is an absolute joy to have “me” back. Bravo to You!
    Reb* in Australia
    P.S. When I was in the States, I was able to source the Golden Syrup, for Anzac biscuits, from an English Pantry store.
    If you ever need a sweet guest room upon a return visit here, you are always welcome at my house.

  44. betty November 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    At this time, I guess we are so eager for freedom, we can’t really want another direction. Reading your piece made me sad. Thirty years ago, I could have signed my name to your letter, so I completely understand how you’re feeling. With my children off to college, my husband on the corporate climb, I decided to do my walk-about. I got a divorce, went back to school; got a good job; saved my money and invested. I grew, became stronger with the knocks of being a single woman; won some awards . Now, I am 80 years old. As I look back, I realize I could have done all the thing to realize my potential; going back to school, the job and travel, without giving up the years I had invested in marriage, children and planning, with just some changing of attitudes and lifestyles. Men move on. My former mate married a younger woman and today, the children and grand children prefer going to his country house for holiday dinners and birthday parties rather than coming to my city place. I could have had it all. So, think longer…20-years out into the future, before the drop of the final gavel. I wish you happiness.

  45. maria (farm country kitchen) November 18, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Thank you, Betty, for your kind and thoughtful words. You have expressed many good concerns and fears. I have no idea how things will turn out but I have to have faith in the universe. I wish you happiness too!

  46. Jo Huskey Chanin November 18, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Bravo for choosing happiness . It’s not always an easy journey but I try to think of the journey as the reward. By the way I love your hair-I’m 58 and my husband is trying to talk me into going gray (I I color it red). I look forward to reading more about your journey.

  47. Towanda November 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    Congratulations!

  48. Lacy February 26, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    Maria: I wish I had read your inspiring post 5 years ago when the journey seemed so lonely. But I have learned that finding yourself is a lifelong pursuit and you either do it by yourself or with a wonderful partner. Sometimes both, which is what eventually happened to me in middle age! Keep us posted!

  49. Sue May 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    I so feel like this letter could have been written by my very own hand. I am so happy you had the courage to do this for yourself. Unfortunately, I do not. After 36 years of marriage and many medical issues, I am too fearful to let go. I do love him, unfortunately things have occurred, especially over the last couple of years, that make me feel like he doesn’t really feel the same – especially if actions are supposed to speak louder than words.

    I think constantly how life could be different, but am too afraid at this age to let go. Too many surgeries because of a genetic disorder have let me scarred, and have left my husband with less desire for me. I fear no one else would want me, and am too afraid to try.

    I have decided to try counseling for myself and perhaps this will help me deal with my life and marriage, or help me to decide. Your courage and strength are an inspiration to women everywhere. I am looking forward to reading your book.

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