My World Fell Apart—and I’m (Mostly) Grateful

Health & Wellness

grateful / Image courtesy of Joanna Skrzypczak
Photo by Joanna Skrzypczak

Do you ever look back on a previous version of yourself—that person who was so very young or naive or blissfully unaware that everything was about to change?

One of my most vivid memories like this is from an autumn afternoon, years ago. I was sitting on our overstuffed blue denim couch, my two small children by my side, with my daughter’s first-grade teacher on the matching loveseat.

Ms. Jennings wasn’t old enough to be a grandmother, but she had a grandmotherly way about her. She wore whimsically patterned blouses and had long, blonde-ish hair accented by wild flyaways. She was a real-life Ms. Frizzle—and she was making the rounds to the home of every child in her class.

“What are your favorite things to do?” she asked.

We took turns answering: pumpkin patches, farmer’s markets, leaf piles, Legos, crafts, bike rides, friends, cousins, road trips, movie nights, endless trips to the library…

I looked around at our cozy little home filled with color and surrounded by grapevines, fruit trees, and flowers.

I knew things were far from perfect, but still. “I love our life,” I remembering thinking, feeling the warm glow of gratitude.

Plot twist

Just four months later, I had moved myself and my kids into my parents’ basement in another state, never to return to that version of our reality. My marriage was ending, my hopes were dashed, and nothing would ever be the same.

I was devastated.

And I am (mostly) grateful.

I wouldn’t wish that pain on anybody. But I also wouldn’t trade it. I don’t say this lightly. The truth is, without the complete meltdown of my life, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow in some very specific ways.

I’ve said many times that I wouldn’t wish that pain on anybody. But I also wouldn’t trade it. I don’t say this lightly. The truth is, without the complete meltdown of my life, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow in some very specific ways.

To put it more accurately, I wouldn’t have been *forced* to grow.

And, more importantly, I wouldn’t have had the chance to step out of numbness and truly experience life.

The gift

You see, my version of dysfunction can masquerade around as a “nice person who’s only trying to help.” Under different circumstances, I might have been able to get away with that act for a whole lot longer.

At one point, I even believed my actions were quite “selfless”—endlessly turning the other cheek (with no concept of boundaries), trying to save people from themselves (as if I had that power), pretending I was fine (when I was clearly not), giving myself away (until I had no self left). My raging codependency and passive-aggression could have continued unchecked had the earth not fallen out from under me.

But now there I was—34 years old in my parents’ basement, still paying the mortgage on a house I’d never go back to, with no idea how my next chapter would (or should) look.

Friends and family were doing their best to be supportive, but no one really understood. And two young, traumatized kids needed me to make good choices moving forward.

Once I lost everything, I was desperate for help. And that was the gift. I finally began to find it.

Paradigm shift

I dragged myself out of my grief just long enough to land in a support group for women walking through similar pain. I discovered I wasn’t alone, or defective, or doomed.

I learned how to feel, and grieve.

I encountered myself as a human who deserves compassion, and patience, and care. For that matter, I discovered how to start receiving compassion, and patience, and care—and how to truly offer it to myself.

I learned what was mine to control and what was not, and I began to organize my life around that understanding.

I started seeing a therapist. I went on medication for my low-grade bouts of depression and anxiety. I prayed for serenity, and healing.

And—in what felt like an ironic miracle—I began to see beauty, and even joy, right in the midst of my misery.

In fact, I discovered something that’s been confirmed to me several times since: Laughter is somehow so much deeper when you’re grieving. And beauty is so much more vivid.

The caveat 

This is not to say that I learned all of this at once, or that learning it has been easy. I’ve been through more heartbreaks since then. I’ve been to years of therapy. I still attend a support group. My body has struggled physically from pent-up emotions.

And let’s be clear.

I’m not Pollyanna. I’m not even her friend.

Yes, I genuinely hold my past pain as a gift, but only because time has passed and new growth has come from the ashes. I don’t believe in pretending horrible things are a blessing while you’re in the middle of the horrible things. Extremely sucky things should be called extremely sucky. I believe in venting, and anger, and honesty. And tears.

I believe life is incredibly unfair and sometimes horrible things are just plain horrible, with no gift to be found. I’m still asking why, why, why about many things (and still waiting for the answers).

And yet

I’m grateful.

I’m grateful despite, and I’m grateful because.

I’m grateful to have discovered that life is not black and white. It’s not even gray. It’s every shade of every color—a rainbow of feelings and truths, a many-faceted diamond shedding light in every direction, both heartbreakingly beautiful and furiously complex.

I’m grateful to have discovered that life is not black and white. It’s not even gray. It’s every shade of every color—a rainbow of feelings and truths, a many-faceted diamond shedding light in every direction, both heartbreakingly beautiful and furiously complex.

Today I sit on a different couch in a different city, with a whole different life from that autumn day years ago, and I’m grateful to have become more human, and awake.

I’m grateful to have encountered compassion. And nuance. And grace.

And I’m grateful to be less afraid.

Because, if nothing else, adversity has taught me this: I can survive whatever comes next. I’ve already withstood more than I thought I could, and I’ve found beauty, strength, and love in the midst of the mess, again and again. I’ve developed strength within myself—and discovered support beyond myself—that will be there next time I fall.

Because I will certainly fall again, or the sky above me will fall. Either way, I’m grateful to know: I can feel, I can heal, and I can sit on another couch to tell the story.

BY Julie Rybarczyk - November 24, 2019

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3 Comments  +

add a comment

  1. Geek squad

    November 28th, 2019 at 1:03 am

    Touched by your story. It seems like I’m reading my own story. Very well said that Life is not black and white, its a rainbow of colors. Yes, we aren’t aware of the changes & mishappenings that are about to come. But still, we should be grateful for happiness as well as pain.
    Thank you for filling me with hope and courage.

    Much Love and strength to you 🙂

  2. Michael

    November 29th, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Beautiful piece, as always. Thank you.
    Stay warm.

    M

  3. Anita Menotti

    December 7th, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Utterly powerful! Not only did the article resonate with me on so many levels, but I too have sat on many a sofa staring at photos of a ‘versiob’ of myself that no longer exists. I mean she’s there but she’s been reinvented. I found this article to be so poignantly honest and I love this “I’m grateful to have discovered that life is not black and white. It’s not even gray. It’s every shade of every color—a rainbow of feelings and truths, a many-faceted diamond shedding light in every direction, both heartbreakingly beautiful and furiously complex.”

    Thank you so much for sharing your talent and that through the pain, it has given your voice such strength.

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