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How Did I Get Here?

Updated: May 22, 2023

How did I get here? How is this my life?

These are the questions I asked my therapist soon after my first visit. Situated awkwardly on a rounded, cream-colored couch, I shifted my weight, crossed and uncrossed my legs. A new feeling of emotional discomfort I didn’t know how to process. Light poured in from the sunroof window above, and rays of life shone into the room where my dead heart was trying to keep rhythm. Just trying to beat. To continue this stalled life.

I asked these questions rhetorically, hoping to hear a reassuring response instead. That I was dreaming. I had just imagined it all. I knew how I got to that couch, to that room, why my

Woman with gold streaks on her face

breathing was so heavy and anxious. I knew what had happened. But sorting through the story, feeling the emotions, and embracing the new normal of my life was not what I wanted to do. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I replayed words and interactions over again in my head, I couldn’t make sense of it. Really, what had happened?



Starting over.

Safe to say, this wasn’t how I planned to spend my 24th year of life. The rug was yanked out from under me so quickly. I didn’t see it coming. Days, weeks, and months later, I still tried to

find my footing. I’d put one shaky step out before the other, aiming to stay steady. But one little emotional setback or another document for a name change and I lost my footing again,

stumbling down, down, down.

How did I get here? How is this my life?

The one consistent thing about life, the one thing that we can count on, is that life never goes as planned. Something unexpected happens, no matter how much we track our calendar or how detailed

we make our goals.

What I never made room for in my mapped-out life was falling in love and getting married right after college. Much less did I take into consideration planning for the surprise fall-out of the marriage. The plot twist left me alone, starting over, uprooting everything I had grown with that person over the last handful of years. All of the hopes and dreams and goals that I thought we shared. Instead, I was frantically packing a suitcase, trying to simply figure out the next 24 hours. Life, party of one, please!

I’ve never been in a car wreck, but I imagine the instant collision impact like I did when my then spouse decided to tell me over my tears that they weren’t happy with me. I didn’t make them feel loved. They were just done.

A blur consumed my vision over the days and weeks that followed. Crippling pain hindered

my ability to climb out of bed some mornings. Each day waking up to walk myself through the

events that had gotten me here.

As much as this giant shift was out of left field, it was more unexpected that I would find myself moving back home at 24 years old, being served divorce papers at the front door of my childhood home.

Surrounded by family, both physically and emotionally, I struggled to climb out of the well

of loneliness into which I was falling. The well went deeper and deeper every day for weeks until I didn’t recognize the personal falling anymore.

Nobody tells you how to reroute your life. How do you start over when the forever you planned

is flipped upside down?

Healing isn’t linear. I learned that fast. You grieve the past, present, and future. And often,

you don’t grieve in that order. It shows up in waves that threaten to drown until you fight through it. It also shows up subtly like a song on the radio, a date on a calendar, or a white dress in your closet as a reminder of past life, a different you. A you that existed before your edges became sharp, blocked off and trauma-whittled to the bone.

For me, it came in the form of divorce papers. It came by moving back to my parent’s home and then out of my parent’s home and on my own for the first time. It came falling asleep next to my dog each night, clutching him as I cried myself to sleep. It came in the removal of my wedding ring and the sorting through of both physical and emotional memories. I was unzipping the garment bag in my closet and feeling the lace of my wedding gown in my hands.

It came in taking the next step forward, one foot in front of the other, alone. And it came in

figuring out what had become of my life and what would become of it.

How did I get here? How is this my life?

I knew how I got here. I knew what had happened

to me.

Where do I go from here?

I threw myself into work, into my social life, and hours spent with my faithful companion of a dog. Truthfully, I didn’t know where to go from there. Some days, I was making strides and wouldn’t shed a tear. Others, the pain seemed to linger with each breath I took, tears threatening to make their appearance with every blink of my eyes.

I knew I had a choice to make about moving forward.

I could sit in my bitterness and pain and let it eat me alive. Or, I could lean into God, His goodness, and search hard for the ray of sunshine at the end of the tunnel. Maybe, all

along, I had what I needed to get started.

As a little girl, I didn’t get the typical bedtime stories from my dad. Instead, I kneeled beside

the trundle bed in the room I shared with my sister and told his versions of well-known fairy

tales. There were monsters. Thieves. Bad endings. Not what you’d typically expect. And

maybe, those memories foreshadowed my future.

That cream-colored couch where I asked the same questions over and over again-- where

I exposed the deepest cuts in my heart and opened the wounds of abandonment-- that’s

where I took the first step forward. I knew this event, the choice someone else made about my life, wasn’t allowed to define the rest of my life.

Like those bedtime stories my dad told, this chapter of mine didn’t have a happy ending.

But life, when it doesn’t exactly go to plan or the rug gets ripped out from under us, we don’t

lose our footing forever. We may stumble a bit, but it just takes one step in front of the other- no matter how slow or wobbly- to start over from where we are. We turn the page.

I took that first step, that first big, hard step of deciding that something I never expected to

happen wasn’t going to define me.

That’s the thing about life and expectations that are either set for us or we set for ourselves. We can let them weigh heavy on us, be the mark we measure our success by, calling it a failure when we don’t reach those goals or standards.

OR, you can decide not to let expectations define you. Not from society about your body. Not from your family about your career. Not from yourself about a failed marriage; I now see the marriage that I initially viewed as a failure as something that allowed me to reroute my life.

More importantly, it’s helped open the door back to myself. I never expected this to be part

of my life story, but every day I turn the page to a better ending than I was dealt. Somedays, I

still grieve the past, and other days, the present.

But now, I don’t find myself grieving the future anymore. I catch myself anticipating it, looking

forward to the next chapter. There are days that I can’t wait to get up, excited with anticipation for what’s to come. Other days, I belly laugh until it hurts. And sometimes, I find myself smiling and wonder, How did I get here? How is this my life?


Writte n by Caroline Shapley photographed by Lindsay Bell of Lindsay Cecelia Creative

Agency. Makeup by Chloe Price.

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