Seven years ago, my bare feet padded down into soft sand. Waves from the Pacific Ocean kissed the shore where I stood. The sun and the moon shone down from the bluest of skies. I wore a long white dress as I held the hands of my best friend, a man I couldn’t wait to be married to. I repeated sacred vows with conviction and confidence, we promised forever as we slipped on gold bands. In the company of family and friends, we said, “I do” and sealed it with a kiss. I changed my name and became a wife. The wedding was beautiful, the day was perfect, the marriage was short.
Less than two years later, I would be filing for a divorce. I was 23. I lost the person I loved more than anything in the world to their own demons. I couldn’t save him as hard as I tried, and in the process, I almost lost myself. I googled how to file for divorce and how to change my name. I paid an attorney and got the necessary paperwork notarized. The decree of divorce was a welcomed relief from the painful world I left behind, a weight was lifted when I received the fancy, official document in the mail. Over time, I got used to saying my maiden name again, to not wearing my wedding ring, to checking the “Divorced” box. I had a long journey ahead but there was no question of whether or not I made the right decision, it was the necessary decision. By leaving, I believed I saved my life. So that was that…right?
A few months ago, in the process of writing my book, a memoir about my healing journey, I dug up old journals and letters. I revisited words I penned in the past about a world I had nearly forgotten. I was transported back to a relationship with clear, blatant patterns of abuse, manipulation, addiction and misery. I read entry after entry where I cried for hours for “no reason”, where something was deeply wrong, but I could never put my finger on it. Even my body used to rebel against me, flashing warning signs that I failed to recognize as cues. At the time, I didn’t know how to listen. I didn’t know what my needs were. I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know that our love was hiding something much more broken. The questions arose: how did I not see how unhealthy and wrong this was? Even from the beginning, how did I not pay attention to the red flags that littered the path before me to saying, “I do”? The blinders of being in something so wrong, at the time had seemed so right. Throughout this journey of revisiting the past, I’ve had to cultivate grace and compassion for myself as I acknowledge all that I normalized in the name of love.
It became increasingly evident as the evidence mounted, I still had a place to revisit. A place to heal. A place to call my power back. The ever present but deeply buried wound of my wedding resurfaced. I grew angry. I had made a promise, a commitment, a vow. I had meant them with entirety of my being, till death do us part. I stuck to them, I honored them, he did not. If you would have asked me then, I would have sworn I knew my husband would never break them. I truly believed he meant them, the same as I. Buried within my rage was a soft place of sadness, an open wound I had tried to conceal. I began to realize that an official looking piece of paper from the State of Virginia didn’t sever the sacred vows I had committed to in my mind, body and soul. I had left a piece of me there, on the beach, on a beautiful day in February, waiting and waiting for a promise that would never come true. My divorce process did not feel complete, my healing journey continues. Words have power and only I could release myself from the power of the vows I had made. It was time to truly break the commitment, it was time to take my power back and release all attachments from that day. I began to envision a ceremony that would do just that, this time choosing me, freeing me, honoring me.
I revisited the very place, the beautiful beach where we promised our forever. Once again, my bare feet pushed down into the soft, cool sand. The emerald waves of the Pacific Ocean tugged at the shoreline. The sun sank into the west, lighting up the sky as I walked the same walk I did years before. This time, there was no groom waiting for me. No officiant who would proclaim me a wife. No watchful eyes of family or friends. Only my parents accompanied me as we walked together down the sandy aisle to a different kind of ceremony, this time one tailor-made just for me. I wrote my own vows for this special day. With fire, I burned the older vows I had entered into, the ones that no longer served me. As I spoke, I released myself from the promises of the past. I forgave. I let go. I honored all that had transpired. I was free. I walked to the shoreline, then into the cold water, where it swirled around me as I released the ashes of the promises I burned. The sun made her final descent, marking the end of a day and the end of an era where my old promises still had power over me. No longer.
Later than night, under the watch of the full moon, I burned the remaining letters we had exchanged one another. Feeding them into the flames one by one, watching them turn to ash, feeling relief and lightness wash over me like a wave of freedom. Something deep within me stirred, the power of my actions sealed a new kind of vow as all my power was restored, all that I had lost was made complete. A peace settled deep into my bones and I whispered to the stars: I’ve never felt more grateful to be alive.
This ceremony was one of the most beautiful and powerful gifts I have ever given myself. There is so much power in naming and releasing that which no longer serves us as we welcome in that which does. Some people say their wedding day is the most cherished and treasured day in their lives, I was one of those people, but as that afternoon unfolded, I knew this vow, this moment was more powerful, enduring and precious than any other contract I had or ever will enter into. The memory of my parents holding a loving space, the warm embrace of my mother as my Dad spoke with tears in his eyes: I didn’t know how much we needed this too. When we heal, we heal for so much more than ourselves. When we make peace with the past, we create space for new stories to be told. Creating ceremony or a ritual around a rite of passage, a pivotal moment in our journey or something we are proud of and ready to release can be so profoundly transformational. It took me seven years and revisiting painful places to come to the realization that I needed this. In truth, it doesn’t matter if it takes a lifetime. We are always on the journey. Maybe I always knew one day I would arrive here, maybe that’s why I kept all the old letters and mementos, so that when I was truly ready I could honor and release all that was. Maybe it was all ever about coming home to me. All I know is that I’ve never felt so powerful, I’ve never felt so grateful to be alive than when I finally learned that the vow to myself is what matters most.
May words from my ceremony speak to your own journey as we all find our way home:
I vow to own, love, nurture, honor, trust and heal myself for all the days of my life.
I affirm and claim my innate worth and embrace my wholeness on every level.
I honor and follow the calling and guiding of my wild heart and wise soul.
I trust, love and appreciate my perfect physical body.
I heal myself from a place of unconditional love, kindness and compassion.
I share my story, speak my soul truth and help others do the same.
I serve the world with my gifts.
I live a meaningful and inspired life.
With this sacred vow I embrace this beautiful journey of becoming, now and forevermore.
And so it is.