Reclaiming My Personal Power
Reclaiming My Power
How I Found the Beauty and Strength Within My Broken Self
by Cheryl Sprague
I have one breast and a bald head and the man that I have given my everything to just told me that he wants out. It’s 3:00 in the morning and I am lying here, wondering what I did wrong, or how I could have been better for him. We had broken up once already, about six months prior to this, but we “worked it out” and moved past all of the things "I did" that were so horrible. He had no choice but to cheat on me. I promised him, and myself that I would become a better person.
For the last six months, I have prayed that God would show me how I could become good enough for this man, how I could become worthy of his love. Four months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but as they say, God works in mysterious ways. My partner (I have lots of names I’d like to call him right now, but let’s just go with Jack.) was at every doctor’s appointment, he stayed by my side through the surgery, held my hand through the first round of chemo. He even spent a week hanging out with my mom. Then something changed. It may have been a gradual change, now that I think about it, but in the throws of it all, the break up seemed to come out of nowhere, like a ton of bricks across the side of my face.
I still don’t know why he wanted out, I just know that all at once, he quit looking at me. The distance he put between us was palpable. He would touch me, but it was different, there were no feelings behind it. And then he quit touching me. If I initiated it, he’d have sex with me – he is a man after all! But there was no affection, no love. Five years of my heart invested into this relationship, and I had become a booty call.
Our relationship had “survived” his infidelity just a few months prior to my diagnosis. Learning how to trust him again took a lot of work. But learning how to trust him with my now very different naked body, felt like climbing Mount Everest; an insurmountable task for someone whose heart had already taken such a beating. It required an amount of courage, strength and humility that I didn’t know I had. I loved him so much, and I wanted us to be okay, so I found the muscle and nerve to trust again. I didn’t just have to find this courage the first time I took my shirt off in front of him. I had to battle with it every single time. Each day getting in the shower, crawling into bed, preparing to make love, getting dressed in the morning or changing clothes to go out to dinner. Several times a day, I would have to go through this magnificent process of convincing myself that it would all be okay, even though the reality of it was that nothing felt even close to okay. Throughout our relationship, Jack never made me feel like I was anything but beautiful. Until the time when I most needed to feel beautiful. That was when he bailed on me, on us, and left me feeling so completely alone, and devastatingly unattractive.
One night, I could no longer keep pretending that I didn’t know he was unhappy, so I forced him to say it. Before I knew it, all I could hear was myself begging him not to leave, asking, "what can I do to become good enough for you?” He told me that he needed space to “find what makes him happy.” He also told me that he’d been unhappy for a long time but felt like he couldn’t leave me when I was going through cancer, and that my diagnosis had made him “feel trapped.” I wanted to SCREAM. Trust me, buddy, no one feels more trapped by this cancer than I do. Still, I kept promising that if he’d stay, I’d work harder. I’d become a better person. I’d make myself good enough for him. We hung up the phone, and I fell asleep crying.
The way he left, made a hoax out of this healing process and shattered my heart into a million pieces. I loved him with all I had, I trusted him with my disfigured body, and he turned my entire plight into a joke. It felt like being punched in the stomach, but so much worse because I could feel my heart literally breaking at the same time.
I remembered the afternoon that I went in for my mastectomy. Jack and my dad were there with me. I was lying on the gurney staring into the far too bright overhead lights and saying good-bye to them near a daunting set of double doors. Once in the operating room, everything was so sterile, and while there must have been a dozen people in the room, I came to the stark realization that I was actually quite alone. None of the people in that room were looking at me. They didn’t know my history, my family, my worries or anything about me. I was nameless and faceless and utterly solo. It was the most alone I’d ever felt in my life. I was just laying there, naked, alone and petrified, with tears streaming down my face. I knew I had to do this, but I wanted so badly to just run away. Fast forward a couple of short months, and here I was again, alone, naked and petrified, with tears streaming down my face. I know what I have to do, but all I want to do is run away.
For five wonderful years, I had given this man my whole heart, my body, time, love, fidelity, my everything. He was my best friend; he was my family. My children fell for and trusted him as much as I did. My parents loved him as if he were their own son. I fell for his children, and loved them as if I were their mother. Letting go of them was going to be even harder than letting go of him. And knowing that the pain had only just begun made the future seem impossibly frightening and lonely.
Then one night, I woke up unsure of the time, but I knew that God was in my bedroom. He put his arm around me and told me that I am good enough and that I didn't need to be better or stronger or prettier to please Jack, or anyone else! The only person I need to be better for is myself. We all have room for improvement. It doesn’t make us unworthy of love, affection, devotion or faithfulness from another. But we first have to figure out how to love ourselves.
Even though I’d just had my “aha…light bulb moment”, I am not really sure what God is thinking for my life. I believe that He has a plan, and I believe He knows what He is doing, but I had reached a point where I just felt picked on, and keeping my faith was becoming more difficult by the day. So I kept praying, bargaining with God that if He’d get me through all of this, I would listen and open my heart to whatever His plan for me entailed. Sometimes we have to simply believe that the good Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. But faith can be hard to come by.
As the first “post-Jack” days passed, I prayed more than I breathed. Through this, I began to recognize a few things. One, Jack staying with me for as long as he did, out of a sense of obligation, is not such a bad thing. He was doing what he thought was right, and that makes him a better man than I’d given him credit for. Second, his breaking up with me mid-cancer seems truly unfair, but me asking him to be unhappy so that I don’t have to be, is even more unfair.
Finally, I am beginning to recognize how I gave my power away. I allowed someone else’s issues and impression of me to determine how I felt about myself. I allowed Jack and our relationship to define who I was, to decide my worth. As women, we often allow relationships to define who we are. We become someone’s mother, or someone’s wife, and in the process, we forget who WE are. I want to stop doing that. I am not just breast cancer; I am not just a mom; I am not just a wife or a girlfriend. I am me. And I am good enough.
I gave my power to a man this time, but I can look back and recall a time when I gave my power to my job. It’s the same thing, really. If you are allowing someone or something to control your life and your decisions, it’s time to stop. I am taking my life back; I am reclaiming my power. I want you to do the same thing, and here is how we’re going to do it. Together.
Step one. Stop blaming the person, people, things, jobs, parents, illness etc. that “took” your power. You gave it to them and you need to own that. It’s okay, so do I. This might be the toughest thing we ever do, but we’re going to do it.
Take a deep breath, and say to yourself, (aloud if you want) “I gave my power to (fill in the blank). Now I am taking it back. Today I start my new life. I am responsible for me, my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions. And I intend to make them worthy of a woman that is as fabulous as I am. I am now a role model for other women.”
Step Two: Find a journal or a notebook of some sort that speaks to you, that makes you want to write in it. The notebook is for journaling, for writing down random thoughts and ideas. For example, what is making me sad today? What am I feeling grateful for? What are the next steps for making positive changes?
I have fallen in love with journaling. Maybe even become dependent on it. The thoughts I am able to write down hold the keys to taking my power back and serve as a trajectory for how my life will finally belong to me and how I am no longer making excuses.
The bonus to journaling has been the epiphany that there is a lot more in my life to be thankful for than there is sadness. Grief and loss are part of life. Illness happens, breakups happen. People we loved will become people we once loved. But if we stay focused on our gratitude and especially on helping other people who are going through a difficult time, then our difficult times become part of who we are without defining who we are. This makes it easier to understand and be patient with our fellow humans. We are all flawed individuals, and loving one another in spite of those flaws (or perhaps because of them) can be a very lovely experience, and one whose benefits will come back to you, ten-fold.
Going through cancer and a major love loss at the same time has added a unique perspective to my life. I can’t allow cancer to tell the world who I am any more than I should have allowed Jack to tell me who I was or who I should be. Life is full of loss. We lose pets, we lose our hair. We lose friends, jobs, parents, and marriages. We lose money; we lose children; we lose our minds, our car keys and sometimes our breasts. The thing to remember is that loss is relative and when a person is mourning a loss – it doesn't matter if it seems silly to you, it isn't silly to the person living it. Just like what you are currently experiencing is not silly to you. It is yours, and if someone tells you that you are overreacting or being dramatic, that person needs to be cut from your life. Immediately. Further, as a friend to someone going through a crisis, you don't need to say anything profound, you don't really even need to understand, you just need to be there.
I want to be the woman that other women feel safe around. Life is not a competition and if we help each other, we ultimately help ourselves. I want to be the woman that helps, encourages and supports other women. I want to be the mom that allows her children to learn and grow and become the person they are the happiest being. I will not choose their paths for them, but I will give them the confidence to find their own path and take it as far as it will go. And I want to some day be the loving partner of a man who loves me back, unconditionally. I will be a partner that lets go when that is what is needed, and one that holds on for dear life when that is what is needed, but I will never be the one who expects perfection from others. Because they surely won’t get it from me! But it will still be love. Pure, simple, uncompromising, unwavering love.
I still have scars, deep ones. My scars are both emotional and physical. But I can look in the mirror today and see my scars as a symbol of strength. Those scars mean that I am alive; that I am a fighter and that I am here and available to raise my own children. There is something oddly beautiful about my scars. I will never pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated, but then again, I wouldn’t likely have been their top candidate before my cancer either. And that is okay.
No one knows what tomorrow brings. Jack is on his own spiritual journey now, and even though it doesn’t include me, I respect where he is. I have a lot of my own soul searching to do. Maybe it will ultimately bring is back together. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I will be okay and I will be who I am.