Vows: Making Them Count

I recently posted one of Danielle LaPorte’s Truthbombs on my Facebook page:

don't hide behind your vows
When I read this, my heart fluttered in recognition.

This sparked a discussion of what it means to make a vow, to break a vow, and to hide behind a vow, a discussion that got me thinking about my first marriage and divorce.

My first marriage happened when I was 24 years old. I remember loving the idea of marriage. I remember being excited to go off on an adventure with my first husband (he was being transferred to Mississippi) and I remember thinking how grown-up getting married seemed. We were moving across the country. I was playing house.

I also remember that first year of marriage being a painful lesson. There were many arguments and serious depression, an affair and the despair that comes when you realize that affairs don’t solve anything. I remember asking him to go to couples therapy, and being told that we didn’t need it. I remember driving to my friend’s child’s funeral in Illinois alone (well, not alone – I had my dog). I remember phone calls to my mother from my car, hiding out in random parking lots, sobbing and looking to be told yes, it’s ok to leave…yes, you can jump this ship.

Most of all, I remember the day I decided to save myself, because that was the only day in my life thus far that I have seriously contemplated suicide. Hurting and alone, I thought, “I could always kill myself” and realized I was serious. And that was it – that thought snapped me out of my funk, out of the belief that I couldn’t leave, that I couldn’t face what everyone would say when I gave up after a year and a half of marriage. I remember the bolt of lightning in my chest, the sound of my Godself saying, “That is ridiculous. You can leave, and you will leave.”

Seriously, Danielle LaPorte rocks my socks. You should really check her out.
Seriously, Danielle LaPorte rocks my socks. You should really check her out.

So, I did leave. In two weeks, I had packed up my car, grabbed my dog, and I headed home to…well, to very little emotional support, if I’m going to be honest. I was right in assuming that most people would not understand why I was throwing in the towel. The people in my life that weren’t able to walk away from their own ill-fitting vows spoke loud and clear: you made a vow, and if that vow means anything, you don’t break it.

Here’s the kicker: vows mean a lot to me. It was precisely because I take vows seriously that I left my marriage, as we were not living up to the promises we made. We did not vow to be miserable and together; we vowed to be married, to be partners, to hold space for one another’s joy, to challenge one another to be better together than we could have ever been apart. Those vows were not broken by my walking out the door – in a way, they were fulfilled when I left, as I knew that we would be better able to find happiness separately if one of us had the sense to leave.

A year after leaving Mississippi, I had a life-changing dream. Odin came to me, and we walked to a gigantic canvas that stretched out as far as I could see, a white wall that went on for miles. I asked him what we were going to do with that immense white wall, and he replied, “We are going to paint the tree you will hang on. Traitors always hang head to the ground.” As we painted Yggdrasil on that blank canvas, he told me the secrets of appropriate betrayal – of being brave enough to do what you know is right, even when no one else will understand or support you, even when all you see is condemnation. I awoke from that dream dedicated to Odin: my divorce psychopomp, my supporter, my adviser ever since.

start leaving
Give yourself permission.

I think we need to make vows count, and to do that, we need to walk away from vows we have no business upholding. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says so succinctly in her poem “The Invitation,”

“I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.”

There is only so much space in a life – make room for a future worth having.

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