Last year, on the morning of my 40th birthday, I woke up in a beautiful bed at Langdon Hall next to the man I love. This year, on the morning of my 41st birthday, I woke up in the spare bed, in the house of the man I love – both of which I can no longer call mine. What a difference a year makes.
Even so, many of the realizations I came to a year ago remain true today. At 41, I fit into my own stretched skin with a comfort and confidence I never possessed at 20. And I still wouldn’t trade my current reality for that of my 20-year-old self – or her misguided dreams of the future.
At 20, 25, 30, or even 35, the heartache I’m working through now would have knocked me over with the force of a tsunami. Today, I honour it, acknowledge it, own it – but it doesn’t own me. After much introspection, I’ve come to realize why. I’ve lived, laughed, loved, strived, struggled, and conquered far more than any of my younger selves could ever have imagined. At 41, I don’t doubt my attractiveness, my talents, my value, or myself. I know exactly who I am, and what I offered in four years of the most important relationship of my life.
Ironically, I have Gabe to thank – at least in part – for that. He was the first man to look past the shallow mask I wore to protect my heart; the first to demand to see the real me. He saw both the woman I was, and the woman I could be – and he challenged me to become more than I was. He celebrated and supported me; and in many ways, still does.
More poignantly, I have myself to thank – because I did the work. I’m still doing the work. I love the woman I am today. I am infinitely proud of her. I am far less hard on her than I used to be. That’s because at 41, I know that the most important relationship of my life is the one I have with myself.
On the morning of my 40th birthday, I made a conscious choice to be happy. It’s a choice I didn’t know was available to me on the morning I turned 20. It’s a choice that isn’t fully available to me now as I work my way through the labyrinthine sorrow of loss. But on the morning I turned 41, I made a conscious choice to be happy with myself. And that will make all the difference.