First You Then Him: A Former Trainwreck's Guide to Becoming Then Finding A Healthy Partner: A Look Inside Chapters 1-3
I would lament over pitchers and pitchers of margaritas with girlfriends that my picker was broken, instead of looking at myself first. The work of fixing myself was not fun, or sexy, and not a priority for me. After being so miserable in the wrong marriage, I was on a quest to make my life exciting again, pronto, and I was so sure that 100% of the answer was choosing the right guy. I started new relationship after new relationship, on a quest for happiness that crashed and burned every time. It got frustrating. I wasted so much time. Yet, I kept repeating this vicious cycle, thinking, eventually, I would get it right when I found the right guy. Wrong!
My biggest pet peeve is wasting time. Considering I languished sixteen years in the wrong marriage, you would say (correctly) that the evidence doesn’t support this theory. But, in reality, it was one of those situations where I finally woke up and then looked in the mirror and said, Damn, Girl! You’re almost all used up! You wasted your skinny, pretty years on the wrong guy. Now you must immediately hunt down the right one, bag him and tag him, and then get married as quickly as possible to right this wrong. You need to prove to yourself and everyone else that you aren’t the complete train wreck you believe yourself to be.
I should have started with me. I can see that clearly now. Hindsight is 20/20, after all, but at the time, I was so focused on proving I could have a healthy relationship if I just worked hard enough at it. What the heck do I know? That’s a very good question to ask. Whenever you pick up a book that is supposed to make your life better in some way or improve your current state, you need to assess if this person is worth listening to. I have been through it. If you want a glimpse into that, my Scotland memoir is ready and waiting for you to read. The last decade of my life, from mid-thirties to mid-forties, has been especially punishing… er, I mean, filled with wisdom and hard lessons. After finally finding the right guy at nearly 45, I decided to undertake the task of helping my younger sisters navigate their way through the shitshow of finding yourself, modern dating, and relationships. I love who I have become now through this process. Jokingly with girlfriends, I have said more than once, “Man, I wish I could go back to my twenties knowing what I know now! If only to slap the shit out of myself, for all the mistakes I made.” Dear lawd, there were so many! Those lessons were hard-won victories. Confucius say: “With wrinkles and age spots come great understanding.”
This book is the book I wish I had read when I was twenty. If I’d had a resource like this, I would have saved myself so much pain and agony, so many years of frustration and anxiety. Not to mention, tens of thousands of dollars in therapy, divorce lawyers, and other financial debacles, but I didn’t and I suffered. I want to give people a blueprint to fixing themselves and then finding a healthy partner because I truly believe that ninety percent of your happiness, or your pain, in this life comes from the person you choose to partner with. If you choose well, life becomes infinitely easier, as two are able to carry the burden of raising a family and all the hard things that inevitably come during the day to day living of a lifetime together. If you make a bad choice, then you will likely pay the price for at least decades, maybe forever, stuck with a person who actively works against you instead of as a teammate. That life becomes a bitter pill to swallow and sets you up for a lifetime of struggle.
My low self-worth and flawed picker led me down many a shifty side alley, from the boy who peed on my clothing on the floor after one night of partying (talk about a whole new urine-soaked walk of shame!) to the guy who impregnated someone else while I was all in on the relationship and blissfully unaware. I have dated all the bad apples, and now I know one when I see it.
So, this is me, holding out a hand to you, offering to pull you off the struggle bus. Let my wasted decades light your way. Learn the lessons I had to learn without the pain of actually going through them. If this book resonates, send it to a young woman you love. You will give them the tools to design a better life. I wish I knew what is contained here when I was twenty years old. Oh, how things would have been different.
P.S. I say ‘him’ but these principles are almost always universal, no matter who you love.
How to Use This Book
More than anything, I hope this book serves as a catalyst for change in your life. I hope, as you read through the pages, you are forced to examine your life more closely. That you take a really deep dive into where you are right now and plot a plan for better. It’s one thing to tell you my sad stories and point out the places where I fell down the well, but it’s another entirely for you to turn the focus of these lessons inward. Don’t get overwhelmed by where you are right now. Growth is constant. The person I was in my twenties and the person I am now are so vastly different from each other because of the personal growth I have experienced. No matter where you find yourself right now, single or partnered, introvert or social butterfly, you will find something here to inspire your own transformation. There is so much damage and brokenness out there that, even if you are the rare breed that grew up surrounded by healthy relationships, chances are there are lessons here that will help you understand your friends or partners who weren’t so lucky. Self-examination and taking the time to heal yourself is never wasted time. One tool I have used my entire adult life is journaling. It has been a north star for me and a glimpse into my own heart when things seem convoluted and hard to process. It also became a place to document the things that have happened so I could refer to them later. Traumatic events have a way of changing your brain and rewriting your memories. It goes into self-preservation mode and hides painful events by compartmentalizing, so resources are freed up for basic things like breathing and working. My brain is so good at tucking the bad stuff away into the deepest corners of my mind that I find myself having to read over past journal entries to remember. My entries bring it back in the Oh yeah, I remember that now. Man, I have been through some serious shit. Cue up “Eye of the Tiger” way.
I encourage you to start the practice of journaling. Just a few pages written every day can have a profound impact on your life if you let it. I know journaling isn’t sexy and seems like work. You might be rolling your eyes and smacking your hand against your head at the very thought of putting the craziness in your mind on paper. You might think journaling is a stupid waste of time, or my handwriting sucks, or I am not a writer.
You don’t have to physically sit down with your journal and a cuppa tea with Yanni in the background while you diffuse lavender essential oils into your space. You can. But you can also choose to open a word doc and bash the keyboard. The point is, you need to set aside some time to focus on your life and the lessons within the pages of this book. By writing the words, whether longhand or on a computer, there will be breakthroughs that you never saw coming. You will find a clarity that you have never known. It will be a place to put your fears to get them out of your own head, so you can look at them from a distance and with detachment.
This will make your decisions easier. It will relieve your stress, and it will give your friends a break if you are the type of person who loves to tell a sob story. Journaling is the cheapest therapy available. During critical times of my own life, instead of lying in bed and letting the anxiety machine crank up endlessly, I have gotten out of bed and given myself the gift of a brain dump. I got all the negativity out of my head so I could be a normal person again.
You don’t have to journal. You don’t. You can read the book, think about the concepts, and likely make some real changes without putting a pen to paper, ever. But I believe you are cheating yourself. You are taking a shortcut, and I know from years of experience that taking the shortcuts don’t get you to the place you want to be. Working toward growth and change takes a disciplined effort, and one of the tools that will help you immensely is journaling. I know it works, and that is why I encourage it.
Sometimes, when I am working through a very difficult decision, I don’t know what I think until I journal about it. It is the process of collecting all those stray thoughts and finding them a home so you can travel through your day lighter and undistracted. It will give you clarity and focus like nothing else.
You bought the book. You are committed to reading it. So, do yourself the favor and go all in. Go all in on your self-transformation. Spend at least fifteen to thirty minutes journaling on the takeaway questions at the end of each chapter. Don’t take the easy route. Dig deep. Do the things you don’t want to do, and power through to the other side. It’s a beautiful place to be, and I am waiting over there for you to break through with fresh lemonade and warm chocolate chip cookies.
Do the work. There are no shortcuts.
Who Are You?
When you were born, you innately knew. Inside your DNA was the clear authentic truth of your being. You simply were you. Then began the bulk of the work of childhood, to control and shape you into what society wanted you to be, to force you into submission, to become a cog in the collective machine of the world. You allowed your parents and caregivers to rub their fears onto you and show you the path of least anxiety all in the name of love. They spoke of college educations and becoming lawyers and doctors and accountants, anything that would certainly secure your future but not your happiness. You listened to them and convinced yourself to be practical, probably calming the worries of your parents by fitting into the box of who they wanted you to be. But this thinking was fundamentally flawed. You were forced into that box, but eventually, you felt trapped, desperate to claw your way out for fresh air. You either stayed trapped and died a little every day, or you plotted an escape, freeing yourself from your loving captors who were loving you to death.
For years, I was trapped. I spent so much time ignoring who I truly was in order to keep the business going, in order to feed my family, in order to fill the cupboards and my 401k. After about two decades of ignoring and stuffing my true self, the inevitable identity crisis cued up. I began to value happiness over money, and the disconnect led me to undertake my own journey that brought me closer to my true self. It is a journey that has no end. Every day brings fresh lessons or repeats of the ones I wasn’t open to receiving the first time around.
This journey is a scary one because it usually unfolds with a dramatic plot twist that will make your family shudder in terror. The journey for me began when I finally acknowledged my true vocation. I am a writer. I discovered this late in life after denying myself for twenty years. Even though I have written in journals almost daily since I was eleven, I never put the two together. Even though I have started three novels, I let the fears that I could never be published and actually make money as an author stop my progress, but not anymore. I am a writer. By clearly defining who I am, I am putting my mind into a headspace that is decisive and smaller. I am limiting what my future prospects look like, which brings me into deeper alignment with them. It is burning the boats, knowing that I will find a way to survive in this space, somehow, some way.
When you finally commit to something, there is a shift in the universe and a huge difference in what it sends you in terms of opportunities and people. The clarity is so helpful because, when you are a jack of all trades to the universe, it supports you in becoming the master of none.
I am scared to death. This is totally normal. I am getting up in faith, writing for hours nearly every day, and proving to God that I am truly a writer. Since a writer writes, I am dutifully sitting down at my computer every day and writing. Even though I have no idea how I will finish this, how I will edit it, or how I will sell it. Even though the voices have started screaming in my head that I have no idea what I am doing, that I am an imposter, a fake, and a fraud. These are all questions I will work through down the road. The important thing now is that I am taking action toward what I want. I am allowing the flow toward who I truly am to pull me in its current. Instead of fighting it and choking on fear and struggling to breathe, completely exhausted, I am naturally allowing the work to flow through me without judging how good it is. I get up, I make my coffee, and I write. It is as simple as that.
Years ago, it became obvious I needed a clean break from my previous income source. The universe agreed with me and sent my ex-husband to lay me off from a business I helped him found. “I just can’t do this anymore,” he said. “You’re killing me.” I remember that moment so clearly. We stood out on my crappy apartment’s third-floor balcony so he could chain smoke while he delivered the news. When the words left his lips, we both knew instinctively they were true, but it thrust me out of the nest before I was ready to fly. I was taking tentative steps toward uncovering who I was and who I wanted to be, but I was too comfortable knowing that there was no real danger of trying something when I had the business to fall back on.
After our long, messy divorce, working with him in any capacity was bad for me. In order to heal completely and move in the direction I wanted to go, I had to free myself from my past and my reliance on him. The security of that income went up in smoke like the cigarettes he smoked that day on my patio. He left and then fear set in, screaming in my ear. The fear will tell you terrible things that are not true. You will never succeed. You are only a background player. Look at all your previous failures. You can’t do this.
I am learning to tell that voice to STFU by punishing the keys on my computer. I am capable, my work has value, and I will be successful. I will contribute to the world and use my gifts to the greatest service I can, and I will not let fear force me to play small anymore. When I was in Scotland, I met a sweet older gentleman at the pub named Duncan. We talked about life a bit, and he talked about a cancer diagnosis that put his life in perspective.
He asked, “What do you do?” I told him I was a writer, even though I had not officially published anything but blog posts. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “It is time for you to be out there. You have been in the background far too long. Trust the message you have to say and put yourself out there.” Even thousands of miles away from home, the universe sent me a love note, a clue that said, Hey girl! You’re on the right track.
For far too long, I settled and toiled for years, taking care of my family and working jobs that didn’t fulfill my purpose. I did accounting, sold insurance, did data entry, and social media marketing. All were career paths that didn’t energize me or tap into my true gifts. They were sensible and good enough, but none of them lit me up like writing did.
I kind of have this visual that, in heaven, right before we are born, we are all babies sitting and waiting on the puffy clouds. One by one, we get our anointing, where God places his hand on our forehead and whispers, “You’re a football player. You’re an artist. You’re an activist. You’re a scientist.” He bestows one bright shining quality on each of us that is the clearest expression of who you are and what you have been sent here to do.
Sometimes you are lucky and, as children, you can see and begin to develop this quality. Sometimes you are stuck in fear and can’t acknowledge it quite yet. But, over time, the yearning to express this becomes deafening, drowning out everything else until it is all you can hear, and you are forced to act. The work becomes about stripping away everything you are not until you truly discover who you are in the simplest, most minimal sense.
You strip away layers of fear and anxiety and distrust. You let the light in to supercharge your soul gift—it’s solar since, in my mind, God was the OG environmentalist—and you start to shine. There are so many people merely existing with darkness inside. They haven’t done the work or are afraid to do the work to turn their lights on. I believe it is my duty to encourage others to do this, and that is what drives me at two a.m. when the insomnia is off the charts to write these words.
The world needs more people that are glowing from their own internal light. We need more fearless soul-renovating warriors whose battle cry is “I AM…” Who you are is enough. Who you are is important. Who you are will give your life meaning in the most beautiful way. It will bring clarity and peace to you in a way that nothing else will. Find your light and turn that baby on. Let it burn brightly in the truth and acceptance of who you are. If you have ever been to a concert or a vigil or a midnight mass on Christmas, and you have been part of a candlelight service, you know the power of standing together in a crowd with your fire glowing. You know how breathtakingly beautiful that is to experience. I think you can have that every day if you are simply brave enough to light it.
The Big Takeaway Question: Who are you?
Who are you at your core without all the other people in your life making your decisions for you? If you don’t know where to start, the clues are in your childhood. What did you love to do for hours on end? What activities made you lose track of time? What are you naturally good at? What have people told you that you excel at without even trying? What makes your heart race?
There are professional ice cream testers—it’s a legit career—so don’t judge anything that feels authentic for you.
Or ask your librarian to add it to Overdrive.