I hear you complaining. Railing against your fate. You alternate between anger and depression. You say your life is a mess because your husband decided he didn't really love you after all. Not that he doesn't -- that he didn't, ever. You know nothing. He didn't leave you because he doesn't love you. He didn't leave you because he loves me. He left because he loves himself enough to do the right thing.

Blame all you want. Be insulting. I'm not afraid of your hatred. Sometimes I am angry and frustrated with it, with your childish selfishness. Does his happiness matter to you at all? But the best parts of me understand your pain and hurt with you. I have been unwanted and I will be again. I am a human citizen and everyone is my brother.

You matter to me in ways you can't even understand. Because you matter to him, because you are a human person, because you are brash and funny and broken. Through the transient walls of my own anger I still want to lift you up. Even while you snap and snarl at me, I would prefer to see you on your feet, content. I want my eyes to shoot laser beams of compassion at you and burn away all of your misguided, limiting, painful thoughts. I want to brand you with the truth, with a scar that will forever after bring you peace. But all I could say would be, "Honey, of course he loves you. He is holding your hand through every step of the process. He cares about you and wants the best for you. He is giving you what he can." Small comfort. No comfort.

It's all I have and it's no good. What you want is for him to take care of you. But he won't because he doesn't want to. It costs him too much -- and nets him too little in return -- of the things he needs to thrive. His happiness is more important to him than your unhappiness. It's a necessary betrayal, but a betrayal nonetheless. I'm sorry you didn't know he was unhappy. I'm sorry it was a surprise. But as the relationship progressed and important pieces of his life seemed to fall away, as the things he cared about grew condensed and washed out, he quietly suffered. Often, he didn't really know why.

It's nobody's fault -- not his or yours or mine. He needs different things out of life. You are the desert when he needs the ocean. Or the ocean when he needs the river. The specifics don't matter. In the end, it was just never going to work. Not for him. Probably not even for you. It took him a while to figure himself out, what he was feeling, and what he needed to do. But once the answer was clear, once he knew that separation was necessary, did you really want him to pretend it wasn't so?

Suffering is meant to force us to take action on our own behalf. Know what you feel, change what you can, perhaps accept some things, move forward. That's what he did. It's what you're meant to do. Here you are, in pain because your strategy for creating a safe life for yourself has failed. Your pain is primal and valid and important. You were the babe and he was the loving parent, holding you safely in his arms. It's natural to scream when you're set down. He didn't just leave you, he stole the emotional and financial security you believed was yours forever. You treated your marriage like it was a wall to enclose the city of your self. You set that man up to be a beautiful, solid symbol against the incursions of an uncertain and hostile world. But he is not made of stone. No one is. Still, he tried, for you.

He applied all of the same pain-relievers during the marriage that you're using now that it's over -- food and sleep and exercise and sex and the sympathy of strangers, prescription pills and risky behaviors, music and TV and mind-numbing rationalizations. But these are distractions, not solutions. In the end, his solution is the same as yours will be. You have to let go. You might be tempted to retreat into bitterness and distrust, to further isolate yourself and alienate the world as a way of regaining your power. To become less vulnerable. You might take solace in your anger and satisfaction in your ability to blame, in your power to wound. But these strategies will just seed more cracks through an already fragile, frightened soul. It will just drive away the shyest love and comfort that would otherwise be yours for the asking.

This is the painful truth that everyone approaches in their lifetime: there is no one coming to save us. You were never and you are never going to be safe in the arms of another person. As an infant you believed in safety, but it wasn't real. As an adult you try to reclaim the illusion. But to grow up means to understand that perfect protection is a selfish, irresponsible, impossible thing to ask of anyone. The most you can ask for is a complementary partner in life -- someone who curves out where you curve in. Someone who moves generally along the same lines. Someone who cares about your needs along with, not instead of, their own. Sometimes self-care means leaving behind people you love or loving them differently. It is a basic truth of life. And at some point, everyone ends up alone. It's awful, but it's not the worst thing there is. There is freedom in it.

What, then, is there to do about the pain? Embrace it, little child inside that raucous and resentful woman. Accept it, lost and lonely girl. Take it, take it all, you lovely, sad creature. Take the pain and let it make you softer. Let it give you not the brittle stubbornness of the ferocious coward, but the warm compassion of someone who truly understands love. Let it teach you to love yourself, to love the world, to love everyone -- those who love you and those who don't. Those who love you the way you want and those who can't. Take that power for your own and wield it as a weapon of inner peace. Let the pain transform you into something big, not small. Let your fear of the dark show you the way to the light.

Embracing the truth is hard and terrifying. It means surrendering to the darkness of despair. But it also allows you to recognize the most delicate and precious insights. There is no one out there who can make your inner child feel safe, but there is you. You are the guardian you have always been seeking. You are unqualified, perhaps, untrained and clumsy in it, but you will always show up for it. It's your unavoidable obligation to care for all the parts of your own heart and soul. The quality of that care is entirely up to you. And there are lots of people out there who can help, who want to help, and who will help. The world is void of saviors, but it does contain as many friends as you can stand to be kind to. No doubt, people will let you down; they will hurt you sometimes. No relationship can promise perfection, but there is always a balance. Just remember that the outside reflects the inside. You are both mother and child. Lover and beloved. Betrayer and betrayed. As long as you exist, you are there, safe and vulnerable in your own arms.

When you reflect on your past and ponder your future, with all the beautiful and terrible changes of life, know that it all has value. Do not seek to build walls. Embrace the view. Teach your inner child how to love the world and you will never feel poor or inconvenienced or alone. Be a friend to yourself. And be kind to those who love you, even when they disappoint you. Even when they can't love you the way you want. There is no perfect beauty to be found except where there is compassion enough to see the flaws and find them beautiful. There is only thing in life you should ever shrink from: the desire to stare too long in one direction. That is an inhalation without an exhalation. It cannot hold. The view will change and the breath will escape the body. But breathe freely and turn your head; there is always more to see.

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