"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself." ~Hannah Gadsby, stand-up comedian
I have some bad news for those of you who long for nothing more than the you you used to be. The "Before" you. Before your heart was shattered by news of your husband's infidelity. Before you fell to your knees and sobbed. Before you stared vacant-eyed at the ceiling, wondering how you could have missed the clues because surely there were clues. Before you threw his clothes on the lawn. Before you brushed away your tears and assured your children that "no, sweetie, mommy isn't sad. Mommy just has something in her eye."
The bad news is this: That woman is gone.
But it's not all bad news. Because when everything is gone, when you're stripped bare and you're looking around and wondering how you ever thought it mattered whether you painted the kitchen chairs yellow or red or whether your kids were actually eating from all the food groups each day, when you don't have much left to lose is when the rebuilding can begin. And anyone who's lost everything in a fire will tell you that when the time comes to rebuild, you don't scrimp, you don't cut corners, you don't overlook. Instead, starting from the foundation, you make damn sure that you're building the strongest possible thing you can, able to withstand fire, hurricane and flood.
Which is why older women are, statistically, at their happiest. We've stopped caring whether people think we're fat, or whether we said the wrong thing at the meeting. As the saying goes, we have zero fucks left to give.
Which is not to say we don't care. Those of us who've been broken and rebuilt ourselves are among the most compassionate people. We care deeply. We just don't care about the superfluous, the shallow. We use our precious time and energy to focus on the things we can change, on the things that matter.
For me, that means my family. It means work that I find meaningful. It means my friends. And it means releasing myself of that longing for Before.
I know how hard it is. I spent way too much time wishing I could magically restore myself to life Before. And yes, there were casualties. It took me a few years at least until I laughed with the same abandon as Before. It took me even longer until I could approach anyone's news of engagement or wedding without cynicism. I had to work to regain my sense of humour and I still tend toward cynicism.
There's little doubt, though, that my shoulders are better able to carry my friends in their sorrow. I know that my heart is wide enough and deep enough to hold pain and still have room for joy. We women who have rebuilt ourselves are superheroes.
It sucks that it sometimes takes suffering to remind us of our strength. But all the women I truly admire – every single one – has felt broken. One lost two children to suicide/mental illness. Another battled anxiety and addiction. Another parents a child with special needs. Too many have known betrayal. So much grief. And so much strength.
I know it probably doesn't help much when you're in a heap on the floor. And I'm a firm believer in letting yourself stay there and cry. Not forever but today.
But know that the rebuilding is underway, whether you can feel it yet or not. Your strength is being stirred and preparing to rise. Look around at the women who you truly admire. Not the ones with the shiny veneer. We all know that's carefully crafted to cover the cracks. But the ones who model strength and conviction. The ones who've rebuilt themselves. Forget Before. That's your After.