Words by Danielle J. Caracciolo | Image by Cristin Goss
The strength of our hearts is essential as it pumps blood and supplies oxygen; it keeps us alive. However, it is a fragile organ, too. By opening our hearts it opens us to vulnerability and possible heartbreak. Heartache can hurt just as much as a physical injury and when our heart is weak, hurt, or broken, we will take drastic measures to protect it from further pain or damage. We may choose to retaliate, live in denial, suppress feelings, or hold on to anger, but we simply cannot begin healing our broken hearts until we learn and practice the act of acceptance. Accepting our diagnoses allows us to let go and to forgive; forgive ourselves, those that hurt us, and even forgive God. Forgiveness is a long journey, but it not only restores our wounded hearts, it allows us to become our true and authentic selves.
I am a 30-year-old woman, originally from a small Pennsylvania town, who prior to this (pivotal) year in my life, was afraid of change, afraid to show vulnerability, and afraid to live outside of my comfort zone. Eighteen months ago, I went through a very difficult break up. I had no choice but to change my stubborn and structured ways in order to navigate my way through the tough terrain and switchbacks of life, which have allowed me to become the strong and brave-hearted woman I am today.
On a mid-January evening, my (now ex) boyfriend of two years, whom I loved unconditionally and lived with in Colorado, blindsided me after he came home from a solo trip to the mountains and informed me that he “wasn’t happy”. While I initially suspected another woman, he blatantly denied it and lied to my face on multiple occasions. I later found out that I was ultimately deceived. This deception rocked me to my core; my emotions and actions that immediately followed were desperate, pathetic even. This was by far the hardest thing I had been through in my 29 years. The one person I needed to be there for me the most was the one person who put me in this horrific situation. This wasn’t JUST a breakup, this was much more than that.
I had started to plan my life with him. I shifted my wants and needs, my career aspirations, my hobbies, and even some of my beliefs to the point where I was a shell of a person. I no longer knew or recognized the woman I saw in the mirror. My family and lifelong friends were 1,500 miles away and while I had so much support from them, from my coworkers, and even from his family, I never felt more alone in my life.
My heart hurt every second, every minute, and every hour of every day. I felt like I was dying from the inside out. I cried daily, I barely slept, and when I did eat or drink, I didn’t choose healthy options. An emotional hangover kicked in, and while I continued to “work out”, which is something that has always been a passion of mine, it also became a chore. I gained weight, compared myself to other women, and I questioned God. I needed answers to questions that were certainly not answered during the break up: “Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong?” I couldn’t see the forest through the trees and I didn’t understand why or how the man that allegedly loved me and moved me into his place only four months prior to this implosion could rip my heart out, step on it, and set it out on the curb with yesterday’s trash.
With struggle and hesitation, I packed six bags filled with clothes and shoes and went to a gracious friend’s house where I lived in disarray and a disheveled mess in her basement for nearly two months. During this time, I was a wreck both physically and mentally. I even got pulled over twice for speeding in less than a 12 hour time span. But through faith and prayers for patience, courage, strength, and preservation I eventually found a new place to live and with that I also began to feel alive again. I became a single dog-mom and I put myself out there and met new people and built new friendships. I held myself and my growing career together with poise and grace. I started to acknowledge, and most importantly, accept the hand dealt to me to begin my journey forward. The early summer brought me an opportunity with my company to move back to the east coast. After turning the job down two times, for fear of looking like a failure with my return, and praying constantly about my decision, I concluded that “what’s meant for you will not pass you”. That quote took me on a cross-country trip back to the east coast about six months after we parted ways.
Over the course of the last year, I decided to face the truth and hold myself accountable for my part in the relationship. I had to look at myself and where I went wrong, where I resisted, and where I caused strain. We argued often, and frankly, it was a toxic environment and toxic relationship. I realized (and admit) that over time, we lost respect for each other through lack of communication and resentment. Truthfully, I tried to leave the relationship on multiple occasions, but I buried my head in the sand because I feared being alone in Denver, and feared being alone in life.
There was a lot of immaturity in the relationship and no matter how many times we tried to "fix" us, we’d just put a Band-Aid on the surgical wound and move on. Our foundation was severely cracked, and when we decided to finally address our issues, the crevice was already a crater and it was too late. Honestly, I never thought or believed he’d leave me. While our relationship was a vicious cycle, no matter how loud I yelled to be heard or how many times we “broke up” he always came back and we were better than ever – until the next fight. I figured that every relationship had problems and we’d eventually work things out and continue to build our life together.
I was wrong.
The admission and recognition that I was wrong and partially to blame was especially hard for me and I felt insurmountable guilt. Not only was I wrong about him and the man I believed him to be, I was wrong about who I was and what I thought I stood for as a strong woman. I was exhausted from the countless arguments, the shaming, and the hurtful words he spoke about me which simply broke me down. I lost my strength, my spark and fire, my independence, and ultimately myself. I also began to realize this was part of my path, and became determined to journey in order find myself and become a better version of who I am as a friend, sister, daughter, and woman.
Wholeheartedly, I believe that we can begin to mend our broken hearts by letting go of our own guilt and anger in order to forgive ourselves and we can begin to move forward strengthening our hearts for the next journey of our lives without resistance. We may never forget what happened or the pain it caused, but if we can learn from our own mistakes and our offender's mistakes alike, then we are growing as individuals and we can improve ourselves in every facet of our lives with freedom.
My story isn't about forgiving my ex for leaving me for another woman, it's about forgiving myself and finding strength within to accept who I am. I believe that forgiveness is a strong, courageous, and empowering act. Forgiveness means loving and respecting myself wholly, finding happiness within while embracing my body, my flaws, my shortcomings, and my beliefs. Forgiving is to set goals, to achieve and conquer, and to rise above. Ultimately, though, forgiving means finding peace in my heart, candidly, in order to set myself free.
Over the last year and a half, I have been through a complete wave of emotions, but I also believe the choppy waters I’ve been on have taught me essential life lessons which I will carry forward. I learned how to let go and face my fears, I learned that vulnerability is not weakness (rather it’s courage), and I learned that while time helps heal, forgiveness is the best way to restore a hurting heart to become the woman I was meant to be.
While I never got the answers that I so desperately sought, I am appreciative for my chapter in Colorado where I made some unforgettable memories, with and without my ex. Though now he’s just someone I used to know, I am thankful to have experienced our love. Not every day is easy, nor will it be, but I am extremely grateful for the peaks and valleys on my journey; they formed the mountains that brought me to my current adventure.
Today, I live in Pittsburgh, closer to family, friends, and with my golden retriever, Rocky. I love running through my new city and making new friends. I vow to continue my growth with my faith and myself. I vow to continue to discover the silver lining through vulnerability, strength, grace, and a forgiving heart and I vow to have an open mind for every challenge or opportunity that requires me to turn the page and begin a new chapter of my book.