94. Old News

94. Old News

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Old News

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.

~Lucille Ball

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” my sister said, hugging me. “We’re all still in shock.”

She was in shock? I was the one whose marriage had just fallen apart. I was in my parents’ basement, trying to survive our first family gathering since my not-so-happy announcement.

More hugs. More sympathetic looks. I knew they meant well, but frankly, I was tired of the pity party.

“Can we just play a game or something?” I asked, trying to smile. “I just want to pretend for this one night that everything is okay.”

“Oh, of course,” my brother said too quickly. My siblings and their spouses hurried to the game closet, everyone rushing to do as I’d asked.

Before we could agree on a game, my mom came downstairs. She put her arm around my shoulders and said, “Aunt Betty is here and she’d like to talk to you.”

“Why me?” I asked. “Doesn’t she want to see all of her nieces and nephews?”

My mom gave me a look. “You know why she wants to see you.” She squeezed my shoulder. “She’s been through this herself and she just wants to make sure you’re all right.”

I sighed and swallowed hard against the sudden lump in my throat. “Why can’t everyone just treat me like they always do? Neither of the boys has even teased me. How weird is that?” I shrugged and added, “It’s not like I’m made of glass or something.”

But even as I said the words, I knew they were a lie. The truth was that I could shatter at any moment and everyone in the room knew it.

“We’re just trying to be supportive,” my mom said.

“I know, and I love you guys for it,” I said. “But right now, what would help me most is distraction. I want to just forget for a little while.”

My sister-in-law patted my shoulder. “It’s okay, Diane. All of this attention is just temporary. Pretty soon, something will happen to someone else and this will be old news.”

I knew she wasn’t trying to be unkind, but I was crushed. The very idea that my heartbreak would be “old news” was preposterous. My life had completely fallen apart. The man who had promised to love me forever no longer did. My kids would endure a painful divorce and we were about to lose our home. Everything was a mess, and in that moment, I was sure I would never be happy again.

No, my divorce was never going to be old news. Not to me.

Over the next few weeks, I recalled my sister-in-law’s words. The pain was still so fresh and it had invaded every aspect of my life. My marriage had failed, and it made me feel like a complete and utter failure. In marriage and in life.

Nope, no old news here. Months after my husband left, my heartbreak was still very, very new.

I picked up a book on improving self-esteem. The book was filled with clichés, like “Focus on the positive” and “Tomorrow is a new day.” But one piece of advice actually made me laugh out loud. The book said I should start writing down every compliment I was given, no matter what it was or who said it.

I looked in the mirror and laughed as I imagined the compliments people would give me. “Wow, Diane, the bags under your eyes look a little less giant today,” and “Gee, Diane, you’re looking quite thin lately. The gaunt, hollow look becomes you.”

I laughed, but it wasn’t funny. My life had fallen apart, and the mirror showed that my body wasn’t far behind.

The chance that I would actually receive a compliment seemed slim, but I decided to start tracking them anyway.

Two days later, an elderly woman at the grocery store smiled at me. I smiled back, just to be polite, and the woman exclaimed, “Oh, dear, you should do that more often. Your smile lights up your face.”

Of course it does, I thought, since I haven’t bothered with makeup in months.

And with that self-deprecating thought, I wrote down her compliment.

A few days later, my children and I were eating lunch at a fast food restaurant and my son asked if he could finish my fries for me. I handed them over and the man at the next table told my son he was lucky to have such a nice mom.

Just watching my gaunt figure, I thought, but I still wrote down the compliment.

Over the next week, a co-worker told me I was clever, a lady at church liked my potluck casserole, and my daughter told me my hair looked pretty.

I also received a complimentary e-mail from the editor of a magazine I wrote for, as well as a very positive evaluation at work.

I wrote down these compliments and then read over the list. It was an eye-opening experience. If what these people said was true, I was a clever, capable, creative person with a nice smile and pretty hair.

And I made a mean chicken casserole too.

I decided to believe the kind words of others and disregard the unfavorable thoughts I so often had about myself. In short, I needed to stop beating myself up.

It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, but gradually, I realized that a failed marriage didn’t make me a failure as a person. Other people saw good qualities in me, and I needed to recognize them in myself.

I continued writing down the compliments I received, and I actually started to believe them. And one day, I realized that I wasn’t hurting anymore. I’d moved on with my life. I wasn’t a failure, and I’d actually started to like who I was again.

My sweet sister-in-law was right. She said that someday my divorce would be old news. It took a while, and it wasn’t easy or fun, but my heart healed.

And I learned to love myself in the process.

That’s not old news, it’s big news.

~Diane Stark

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